2001 Legislative Session: 5th Session, 36th Parliament
The following electronic version is for informational purposes
The printed version remains the official version.
MONDAY, APRIL 9, 2001
Volume 22, Number 22
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The House met at 2:09 p.m.
G. Farrell-Collins: I have the privilege today to introduce to the House my wife, who's here as a civilian, I might add. She is here with her mother Barbara Cox and her father Ron Cox, who are visiting from Saskatchewan. My mother Kay Collins is here as well. I'd ask the House to make them welcome.
G. Farrell-Collins: I'm informed by the Deputy Premier that my wife's name is Wendy, so I'll pass that on to the House as well.
Hon. T. Stevenson: In the gallery today is an employee of mine, someone who works in my office, Christine Pascus. She doesn't know that I'm making this introduction; it was set up by other members in the office, who asked me not to let her know that this was occurring. But I'm letting everyone know this is occurring. Also, Christine is with her parents, her father George and her mother Mary Ellen, who are from Port Hardy. Will all members please make them welcome.
S. Orcherton: I have two introductions to make today. The first is to advise the House that there are about 27 students from Richmond Elementary School in my constituency. They're accompanied by a number of adults and their teacher, Ms. J. Warrington. Interesting for the members to note as well is that the student teacher accompanying them today is Jacqueline Coleman, the daughter of the member for Fort Langley-Aldergrove. I would ask the House to please make all of these people very welcome to the chamber today.
G. Hogg: In the gallery today is a recent migrant from Manitoba and a new resident of Surrey-White Rock. Would the members please make welcome Mr. Ed Masters.
Hon. G. Bowbrick: Joining us in the gallery today is Janet Erasmus, who's a legislative counsel in my ministry. She's joined today by her 14-year-old son Lars. They're here because he's job-shadowing his mother. I wondered what watching question period had to do with job-shadowing a legislative counsel. Somebody in the precincts suggested to me that legislative drafting may not be that interesting -- although I think it's very interesting. I ask the House to join me in welcoming Janet and her son Lars.
C. Hansen: I had the pleasure of meeting earlier today with some representatives of the BCGEU and the HEU. I'd certainly like to welcome Catherine Glennie, Jaci White, Donna Purcell and Marilyn Foster of the BCGEU, and Deborah Gillis, Fred Muzin, Arlene Schimmelafennig, Stephen Howard and Marty Norgren of the HEU. Would the House please make them welcome.
Hon. H. Giesbrecht: From the riding of Skeena, we have someone that I'd like to introduce to the House: Glen Williams, who's the chief negotiator for the Gitanyow band. He's here from Gitanyow. Would the House please join me in making him welcome.
S. Orcherton: I just wanted to join the sentiments from the Health critic opposite in welcoming the guests from the BCGEU and the HEU who are in attendance this afternoon. He kind of beat me to the punch on that one. But we'll see what occurs this afternoon while they listen to the debate and the discussion around Bill 23. I ask the House to make them welcome.
Hon. J. Kwan: I see in the gallery today Roger Kishi, who is the candidate for the NDP for North Vancouver-Lonsdale, and also his lifelong partner Catherine. They are strong activists in their own community in their own right. Would the House please make them welcome.
B. Penner: I'd like to join the Attorney General in welcoming Janet Erasmus here today. Back in 1989 I was a first-year law student, and I had the privilege of having Ms. Erasmus as my law professor for "Law, Legislation and Policy." I appreciate the chance to put her good instruction to work here at the Legislature. Would the House please join me and the Attorney General in making her welcome.
Introduction of Bills
AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
Hon. M. Farnworth presented a message from His Honour the Lieutenant-Governor: a bill intituled Homeowner Protection Amendment Act, 2001.
Hon. M. Farnworth: I move that the bill be introduced and read a first time now.
Hon. M. Farnworth: It's my pleasure to introduce Bill 24, the Homeowner Protection Amendment Act, 2001. For most British Columbians, their most valuable financial asset is their home. These homes are often in strata-title buildings such as condominiums and townhouses. There are about 18,000 strata corporations in British Columbia overseeing hundreds of thousands of units. The companies and individuals who manage these buildings professionally handle millions of dollars of homeowner funds, and on the whole, they do an excellent job of providing safe, secure housing and protecting people's investments.
However, there is an increasing recognition that there is a lack of regulatory safeguards on funds being handled by strata management companies. Moreover, there are no standards of qualification for the managers who carry out their day-to-day work. Unfortunately, there have been incidents of conflicts of interest and unethical behaviour on the part of a few hired strata managers.
Standards are needed to protect the interests of strata homeowners. These proposed amendments to the Homeowner Protection Act are intended to provide those safe-
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guards. They're part of our commitment to increase consumer protection for British Columbia homeowners. This legislation aims to protect the financial interests of strata corporations and strata homeowners. It will allow for individuals and companies that manage strata property to be licensed. It will allow for the establishment of minimum educational standards for individual strata managers. It will require regular audits, bonding and/or insurance to protect against fraud and improve accountability.
Hon. M. Farnworth: You may think that living in a leaky condo is a lot of fun.
The Speaker: Order, minister.
Hon. M. Farnworth: But most of us don't. It will require disclosure of potential conflicts of interest between strata managers and the owners, contractors, developers, real estate agents and others with whom they deal.
I move that the bill be placed on the orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
Bill 24 introduced, read a first time and ordered to be placed on orders of the day for second reading at the next sitting of the House after today.
PAYMENTS OWED TO B.C. HYDRO
BY CALIFORNIA UTILITIES
G. Farrell-Collins: My question is for the minister responsible for B.C. Hydro. Last Friday California's largest utility filed for chapter 11 protection under the bankruptcy laws. It and a number of other California utilities owe B.C. Hydro hundreds of millions of dollars. It's unclear exactly how many hundreds of millions.
When the story first broke, B.C. Hydro told BCTV that PG&E owed $150 million. Later in the afternoon the minister told CBC radio that PG&E and Southern California Edison owed a combined $280 million. Later in the day it was reported that the minister said PG&E owed $200 million. And then late in the afternoon Hydro released a statement that PG&E and Southern Cal Edison really owed money to the California Power Exchange and the independent operator, which in turn owed Hydro about $300 million (U.S.).
Can the minister tell us, so we can get the record straight, exactly how much is owed to B.C. Hydro by PG&E, how much is owed by Southern Cal Edison and how much is owed by the California Power Exchange?
Hon. P. Ramsey: The moneys owed to Powerex and through them to B.C. Hydro are from the California independent system operator. One of the difficulties here is that while, through the independent system operator, power is provided to both Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern Cal, the breakout is not something that I have access to. So that $300 million in total is the figure. This is a very significant amount from the failed deregulation and privatization experience in California. It should really be a lesson for anybody in this province who thinks that deregulation or opening to more private power providers is the way to go for B.C. Hydro.
The Speaker: The Opposition House Leader has a supplemental question.
G. Farrell-Collins: I know sometimes the opposition asks tricky questions of the minister, but this one isn't terribly tricky. It's something that the minister should have been prepared to answer today. He should have been prepared to answer it on Friday. I think it is important for the minister to set the record straight. How much are we owed by these various companies? How much by the independent operator? How much by the San Diego Power Corporation? British Columbians have a right to know where $465 million that's owed to this province is going to come from, if it ever arrives.
Hon. P. Ramsey: I already answered the member's question about the amount of money that's owed. It's owed largely to the California independent system operator. Powerex and B.C. Hydro intend to pursue the bankruptcy proceeding in California with vigour. The more positive news from Friday's events is, of course, that in filing for chapter 11 protection, Pacific Gas and Electric's president said that it is their goal to pay all of their outstanding bills. It is Hydro's and Powerex's intention to pursue every dime that we're owed.
I would say again to the member: this is a failed experiment in privatization and deregulation. It is a story of a system in which those producing power are not allowed to pass on the costs to the actual consumers. It is an abysmal failure. Those who want to dismantle B.C. Hydro should look at California, should look at Alberta and think twice.
M. de Jong: Those are horribly general answers to specific questions involving hundreds of millions of dollars. I would have thought the minister would have been better prepared. Here's another troubling aspect to this whole issue. Back in January of this year the government knew, or ought to have known, that some of B.C. Hydro's California customers had hit their credit limits and were actually late paying their bills. Yet the documents that the minister himself tabled a week or two ago to justify his inflated Hydro targets show that at that time, he was actually looking to increase those credit limits. Why was the minister prepared to sell even more power to California utilities when they couldn't even pay for the power they had already received?
Hon. P. Ramsey: We are indeed supplying power to California when Powerex can purchase it at a price which will enable them to make a profit for the people of British Columbia by selling it to California. They have continued to make reasonable profits for British Columbians in doing power swaps and sales. They are also doing it, hon. Speaker, while making sure that appropriate credit -- indeed, in some cases cash on the barrel head from state agencies -- is in place, and they're going to continue to do that. B.C. Hydro has a 20-year relationship with utilities up and down the west coast. It has been a profitable relationship for the company and for the people of British Columbia, and it should continue.
The Speaker: The hon. member for Matsqui has a supplemental question.
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M. de Jong: Only an NDP Finance minister would define as profit money his government hasn't received and may never receive.
The fact of the matter is this: back in January the credit card was maxed out. The payments were behind, and this minister's response was to up the limit -- to continue selling power and to put at risk the British Columbia taxpayers to whom that money is owed. Why should British Columbians have any confidence at all in a minister and a government that proceed in such a reckless way?
Hon. P. Ramsey: B.C. Hydro recorded very good profits last year doing power sales into the U.S. It passes understanding why, if appropriate credit mechanisms are not in place, the opposition would oppose B.C. Hydro and Powerex continuing to earn money for British Columbians. The real threat to B.C. Hydro's profitability lies with the plans of the Liberal opposition.
The member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain proposes to shut down Burrard Thermal, which in low-water years provides low-cost electricity to British Columbians. That one move would cost $2.5 billion. The Leader of the Opposition, for whatever reason, wants to impose a firm limit on what B.C. Hydro can or cannot do with the Williston reservoir -- again, costing hundreds of millions for B.C. Hydro. In order to make up for it, the member for Vancouver-Little Mountain has the answer. He says: "We will authorize private power producers to get into the game, and that will make up the shortfall." This is exactly what happened in California; this is exactly what happened in Alberta. Hon. Speaker, if British Columbians think the price of gas was high this year, wait till they see what a Liberal government would bring them in electricity costs.
PREMIER'S TRIP TO INDIA
C. Clark: On to another story that the government keeps editing as we go along, and that's the Premier's private-public trade mission/personal visit to India. On December 29, while he was actually in India, he said: "I am not leading a trade mission; I'm on a personal visit." But then there's the briefing note from December 14, which came out through freedom of information, that said the Premier would be undertaking a program in India arranged by his office "which will include a mixture of public and private events." That was two weeks before the Premier had his feet up in India on his personal visit. So can the Premier tell us why he tells the public one thing about his visit while his briefing notes tell us an entirely different story?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Firstly, I want to say for everyone to hear: I was absolutely proud to go back to my roots.
Secondly, if the Leader of the Opposition and all of the opposition members
ever read the newspapers straight
The Speaker: The hon. member for Port Moody-Burnaby Mountain has a supplemental question.
C. Clark: Well, the question is: if the government employees were preparing briefing notes for the Premier, talking about a trade mission, telling the Premier clearly that this was going to be a mixture of public and private, why was the Premier, when he was in India, suggesting that somehow this was still a private trip?
There's another question that leads from this too. The Premier also said
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, it was all in the Vancouver Sun
on December 11 last year. If there are any other questions
G. Plant: Well, let me try a specific question. The Premier's so-called private trip turns out to have generated a fairly large pile of official documents. Now, it turns out that if you're an NDP fundraiser accompanying the Premier on that trip, you get access to all of the documents. But if you're a member of the public asking for disclosure of the documents, what you get is a pile of documents quite significantly edited under the Freedom of Information Act. So my question for the Premier, who has, to quote him, "absolutely nothing to hide," is: why is it that an NDP fundraiser has access to information that he is now withholding from the rest of the people of British Columbia?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Heaven forbid. The member opposite, if the Liberals ever form government, wants to be Attorney General. I would urge him to check the facts. The individual they're talking about had access to the memorandum of understanding, which is a public document the press has had for a long time, and had no access to any of the briefing material. That briefing material was prepared for my eyes.
If they ever get into government -- and we are going to try hard to make sure
they don't -- they should know that when the Premier of the province travels
outside, whether it's on a private or a public visit, he or she would be
apprised of all of the issues that might be of interest and might bear on the
relationships between your country and the country that you're visiting. That's
essentially what the Foreign Affairs ministry was doing. And I said publicly
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I make no apologies for trying to rebuild the relations between Canada and India that were disengaged. I make no apologies for doing public business in a private trip at private expense.
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The Speaker: The member for Richmond-Steveston has a supplemental question.
G. Plant: I want to pursue an issue arising out of the Premier's last answer. Apparently the Premier did sign an agreement with the government of the state of the Punjab while he was on his personal visit to India, and yet a review of the documents shows that some last-minute revision to that document was assisted by the NDP fundraiser who accompanied the Premier on his trip. So can the Premier explain to me why he thinks it's appropriate for a private citizen, who just happens to be an NDP fundraiser, to be involved in reviewing international agreements before they're signed?
Hon. U. Dosanjh: This agreement had been prepared and in fact completely concluded in terms of the preparation in November of last year, when the Chief Minister of Punjab was supposed to visit here. That agreement was supposed to be signed at that time.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: Hon. Speaker, I will refuse to speak until they are quiet, because it is important.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I don't heckle. They have their time. I didn't heckle them asking questions. I'll be happy to respond.
This agreement was concluded in November of last year. It had to be signed when the Chief Minister of Punjab was supposed to be here. He cancelled the visit due to security reasons. I was going, and I felt that that was an important agreement. I could do that at my own time, at my own expense. That agreement is a general agreement, which had been made public during Christmastime here.
I understand that the gentleman that was travelling with me, who happened to
be a personal friend of mine for the last 20 years
The Speaker: The bell ends question period.
Hon. U. Dosanjh: I ask leave to file two sets of documents that have been provided pursuant to freedom of information with respect to this matter, and there's absolutely nothing to hide.
Orders of the Day
Hon. G. Janssen: I call second reading of Bill 23.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
Hon. C. Evans: I move that Bill 23, Health Authorities Amendment Act, 2001, be read for a second time.
Hon. Speaker, this legislation supports the integration of health care services that are provided in our health facilities and those that are provided in other community settings as well. It does this by creating a new and consolidated health services and support bargaining unit within the health sector that will cover all unionized workers providing the same types of health care services, whether they work in hospitals, in continuing-care facilities or in a community.
This change introduces greater flexibility into the delivery of health services in British Columbia and greater portability of employees and their skills within the health system and further integration of community and acute care service delivery. It reflects what is happening at the bargaining table for the health services and support sector, and it is consistent with our goal of improved health care for B.C. patients.
As I stated at first reading, this legislation continues the process of health sector collective bargaining rationalization and restructuring that was begun by the government in 1995. In that year James Dorsey was appointed as commissioner to review and make recommendations respecting the overall framework for health sector collective bargaining in B.C. As members of this House will recall, before Dorsey the health sector collective bargaining structure in this province was composed of 888 individual bargaining units and 38 unions holding representational bargaining rights in those 888 units. The result was a proliferation of collective bargaining and an overall lack of consistency and integration among the different components of the health system across B.C.
The Dorsey commission spent six months meeting with various interested groups in the health sector, consulting on what those parties thought would be a logical and reasonable bargaining structure for this industry. His principal recommendation was that the overall number of bargaining units in the health sector should be reduced from the previous 888 to just five and, further, that these bargaining units should be multi-employer, with groups of employers represented by the Health Employers Association of B.C., HEABC, sitting across the bargaining table from associations of trade unions representing the interest of health care employees.
In these comments I don't want to go into too much detail on the various changes and problems faced by the health sector over the past six years, all of which we've talked about many times. Transition and change always bring complications, but suffice it to say that the basic thrust of the Dorsey commission recommendations also became in that time a statutory structure for health sector collective bargaining with the passage of Bill 28, the Health Authorities Amendment Act, 1997. Bill 28 introduced a new part, part 3, into the Health Authorities Act, the HAA -- that is, the health sector labour relations part. The current proposals before this House, those contained in Bill 23, make some further modest but I think important changes to the health sector labour relations part of the HAA.
Before I get into the specifics of the bill, I'd like to acknowledge and give considerable credit to the parties
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affected by Bill 28 and by this present legislation. We are not here because I'm a good minister doing a good job; we're here because a whole lot of people worked really hard to prepare for the day when we could come here and make this good legislation. Some of those people are here today, and there are lots out in all parts of British Columbia who bear the responsibility for doing the work to get us to this moment.
Health care employers and their association, the HEABC, on the one side and the various trade unions who are actively representing employees in the health sector on the other side have worked effectively toward ensuring this legislation and the goals envisioned by Dorsey have been achieved. The parties are now in their second round of collective bargaining, and a tentative agreement has been reached in both the facilities and community subsectors. I hope all members will agree that considerable progress has been made to date in moving towards a more workable and rational structure of bargaining within the health sector.
That brings me to the changes outlined in this bill that's before this House today, which I hope will carry on that process. The principal change introduced within the proposed amendment is the merger of the current facilities subsector bargaining unit and the community subsector bargaining unit into one new single bargaining unit to represent the collective bargaining interests of all the parties within the health services and support sector. The government believes that this change is both reasonable and also necessary at this point in time. It brings the bargaining unit structure for health services in the support sector into line with sectorwide bargaining unit structures that already exist for three other units in the health sector: nurses, paramedical professionals and residents.
I recognize that the opposition has said that this broad health services and support bargaining unit is not one that was recommended by Dorsey and that it's just simply something that comes out of the ideas of the government. I stood here last week and couldn't even introduce the bill into the wave of animosity coming out loudly as we attempted to move to this public policy. But I'm going to encourage them, in the interest of getting along and doing good work, to go back and read the Dorsey report and look at his comments again about the desirability of integration of health care delivery, because this change makes a great deal of sense. It further moves the bargaining system along in a natural progression toward four practical and effective bargaining units for the health sector.
Dorsey stated on page 23
Opposition members and government members alike, I hope you would agree that this proposed amendment does remove one further barrier and does permit the parties to move further towards a greater ability for integration of health care delivery, precisely as Dorsey was talking about.
In very concrete and practical terms, what this proposed legislation does is to merge two bargaining units into one bargaining unit covering all employers and all employees within the health services and support sector. After -- and I think this might have been some of the confusion that led to some of the noise last week -- the current negotiations are completed and after the expiry of the collective agreement that will come out of this current bargaining, then all the parties currently involved within the facilities and community subsectors will sit at one bargaining table and will negotiate one collective agreement for this sector. This merger of bargaining units is dealt with by section 2 of the bill.
D. Lovick: So there's no money attached.
Hon. C. Evans: You're right, hon. member. You could keep on saying it, and it will sink in. We'll get everybody agreeing later on, I think.
Section 3 of the bill deals with the future consideration of health sector bargaining units.
Hon. C. Evans: Say what? It's okay. If you want to engage in heckling and stuff, we'll get into a dialogue, and it will help British Columbians understand who we are -- and who you are, hon. member.
The Speaker: Through the Chair, please, members.
Hon. C. Evans: Section 3 of the bill deals with the future consideration of health sector bargaining units. The current legislation, section 19.5, allows the Minister of Labour to screen an initial application to the Labour Relations Board representing a consideration of appropriate bargaining units in the health sector. At one time, hon. Speaker and members opposite, that was considered desirable as a transition provision precisely because of the newness of the structure that Dorsey had recommended. The government now believes that the current structures are established correctly, are well understood by the health community and work. At this time it is reasonable for the board to be given full authority to deal with the appropriate bargaining units' issues.
The board does have authority already under the Labour Relations Code for dealing with this issue in other industrial areas. We do not anticipate that the board will readily amend or change the bargaining unit structure as set out within HAA. Flowing from this merger of bargaining units is also the need, then, to merge the two existing associations of trade unions that were set up under Bill 28.
Section 4 of the bill establishes a mechanism to merge the two existing current associations within the health services and support sector into one new union association. We do not anticipate major problems in establishing this new association, but the legislation does give authority to the Labour Relations Board to oversee the merger.
Section 5 of the bill is a further transitional provision. As stated previously, the agreements are currently being negotiated and ratified within the community and the facilities subsectors and will be continued until their expiry in 2004. We are not attempting to override the agreements that the parties have worked hard to achieve in collective bargaining. It is only in the next round of bargaining that a unified agreement will be negotiated for the health services and support sector.
Last week, when I introduced the bill, it was sort of just hollering in here, but out in the hall I actually heard comments
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that suggested there was a cost attached to this bill. I could read again what I just said, but I hope everybody gets it. It is in the next round of bargaining that this process will have an impact, and I would hope that hon. members would acknowledge that the impact, in fact, will be to make efficiency better and to make health care delivery better so that it's good for the people of B.C. And I hope that they regret -- or forget, at least -- some of their thoughts about cost that I heard outside.
Section 6 of the bill outlines the overall structure of the future collective agreements that will be required within this sector. This section requires that all issues that are common to both the facilities subsector and the community subsector will be negotiated as part of a master agreement. The collective agreement will also contain two subsectoral agreements applying to the community subsector and the facilities subsector respecting issues that are unique or specific to those respective subsectors.
With respect to the structure of collective agreements and its components, the government feels that it should be available to the parties to determine and negotiate what issues will be dealt with where. They are, better than we, in the best position to know what will work best within the health services and support sector.
As I've said, this legislation builds on the progress that has already been made at the bargaining table. It will create a sensible and workable bargaining system in health care, and it will support a seamless health services delivery system that will benefit employers and employees. I urge all members to support the passage of this legislation.
In closing, I want to add some comments about health care and how this law fits in -- in a general sense rather than specific to the bill. Hon. members, everything in the health action plan and everything the government has been involved in of late have been attempting to take down the walls in the delivery of care. Just one example would be that I think everybody has come to understand that in order to make acute care work, you have to build enough continuing-care capacity that people can be in the appropriate facility for their needs. In order to make continuing care work, you have to have home care capability. So it only makes sense to me, since the government and the Ministry of Health and citizens and 108,000 professionals are trying to deliver care in a more appropriate location -- closer to home -- in every other way, that collective bargaining should begin to mirror what's already happening in society and the direction we have to go.
I want to encourage members opposite, those men and women who were yelling
"payoff" at me and other things which tended to irritate me
You don't have to believe it from me; you can read the bill. Then I hope that everybody will stand up and vote for it. Thank you.
C. Hansen: This debate has been going on now for about four years among health care providers in British Columbia, really following from the amendments that were brought in in 1997. Certainly there has been lots of discussion about what would happen if you combined the facilities sector and the community sector.
There's certainly been a lot of concern on the part of some providers in terms of what the impact would be on individual workplaces, both from the perspective of the employers and the perspective of the individual workers, especially in small operations in this province.
The other thing that was talked about a lot during those years this was being debated was how much it was going to cost. We have seen time and time again where decisions have been made by this government without any reference to what the cost would be and what the impact would be on the delivery of patient care. You know, last year we finally had the Minister of Finance coming forward with a report that looked at the real cost to the taxpayer of the zero-zero-and-2 collective agreements that were signed three years ago. The real cost turned out to be $1.3 billion. Now, of that $1.3 billion, $700 million was in health care, and that is one huge chunk of change. That has a bottom-line impact on our ability to serve patient needs in British Columbia.
There has to be that delicate balance, I believe, between ensuring that
workers in British Columbia are properly compensated for the hard work and
overtime that they put in and the frustration and the growing acuity levels that
they face in health care facilities, where we have to balance that with our
ability to fund the needs in health care from the patient perspective. As we
have seen wait-lists go up, as we have seen beds being closed, as we have seen
cutbacks in terms of hours of home support workers at the less acute levels in
As this debate heated up, there was a great fear that this government was going to bring in a sudden change to that legislation, to that environment, which was going to be extremely disruptive and extremely expensive. And the only way it could be funded was by impacting negatively on patient care.
Let's just look for a moment at the environment we had leading up to the tabling of this bill. First of all, this is a bill that comes into this Legislature just before 5 p.m. on the last sitting day of the week. We all know what that means. We've been there before. We've seen that type of legislation come in before. We've seen the government announcements that are made on the Friday afternoon when they hope that the press gallery has gone home for the weekend. That's exactly the time slot this particular bill fit into: the last sitting day of the week, the last possible opportunity for this government to bring in a piece of legislation. It had all the trappings of something that they were trying to sneak into the House at a time when it would avoid public exposure.
That's the time frame. Now, the other thing that was happening that day was that it was within hours of a tentative agreement being worked out at the bargaining table. That's the thing we all want to see happen. We want to see agreements between workers and employers by mutual agreement at the bargaining table. We had the community sector settled earlier -- at least a tentative agreement -- and on Thursday afternoon we had a tentative agreement with the facility sector.
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Given that background concern about what was happening with this whole debate over the amalgamation of these two sectors, given the timing that this minister chose to bring in this legislation, I think any independent observer would have every reason to be extremely skeptical as to what was in this legislation and what was behind it. The quick reading of it, the quick glance, the way the minister explained it in his first reading remarks, really reinforced that skepticism. It reinforced the sense that this was a government that was trying to sneak something in on the dying day of the sitting of that week.
Quite frankly, I don't apologize for the reaction the minister got from this side of the House. We were concerned. We were anxious about the impact it would have on the needs of patients in British Columbia this year and next year.
The minister says that if we weren't convinced then, we should have at least read the bill, and we'd be convinced now. I have read the bill. I've gone through and actually itemized where every single change comes into the Health Authorities Act. I agree with the minister that the initial reaction we had to that legislation was based on our fears as to what this government might do. But in reading the bill, I realize that it is a much more measured approach to this change.
I have an enormous amount of respect for the work that is done by those in the service and support sector. I have enormous respect for those who work in the facility sector and in the community sector.
When we did our health dialogue tour last fall, we went to 23 communities around British Columbia, and we heard firsthand from front-line workers. They came out to those meetings and shared with us their personal experience, their frustration in trying to deal with the growing acuity levels in the hospitals. We heard their frustration in seeing hospital beds close at the same time that they're trying to get individuals who should be in some kind of residential care out of their homes, because home support and home care are no longer capable of taking care of them because of their increasing acuity.
The front-line workers are the ones who bear the brunt of that. The
front-line workers are the ones who, when you have somebody who should be in an
extended care facility and they're still in their home because there is no
extended care bed available because this government hasn't built any beds in the
last five years
When you wind up with a senior citizen who is in an extended care facility
and who should be lifted by a lift, where the worker who's trying to assist that
patient has two or perhaps three other people to help them -- or being available
in a long term or extended term facility
This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with other representatives of this sector, and they told similar stories about the frustrations that they have in trying to deal with individuals who are in need of dementia care or in need of mental health care. It is not a question of whether or not these workers need to be fairly compensated for the work they're doing. They need to be supported. It is beyond just what's in a collective agreement. They need to be supported by ensuring that the appropriate health care service is there for an individual when they are assessed as being in need of that particular level of service.
My concern about this bill is not from the perspective of how the big health care providers will deal with it. The big health care providers have got their human resources departments. There is a critical mass of workers there who can get their voices heard when these debates go forward. The large employers have a better ability to impact at the bargaining table in terms of how that collective agreement is negotiated and arrived at. The workers in those large facilities and those large employers have a greater ability to get their voices heard when it comes to the employee position that is put forward at the bargaining table. I have no doubt that this framework that is being developed is not going to detrimentally affect them.
When it comes to the other employees in smaller facilities and to the employers in those smaller facilities, for me that's still a big question mark. This is not the approach that I think many people feared -- that the government was going to bring in a one-time hammer to combine these two sectors and incur the estimated $82 million in increased costs if all of those wages were brought to the same level as we now find in the facilities sector. That big bang scenario didn't happen, as many people had feared.
Now we have a very different approach being taken by this government in this bill. In this approach we have a situation where the employers' representative and the union representatives have been through a collective bargaining process over these last number of months where this issue was on the table. This issue was a subject of negotiation. They arrived at a tentative settlement that provided for the community sector to start moving towards wage parity with the facilities sector. In addition to the 2 percent, 2 percent, plus COLA that's in both of those tentative agreements, we wind up in the community sector with 3 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent, arrived at towards achieving wage parity. That came out of a collective bargaining process. At the end of that process, all the parties agreed to that tentative settlement. It's got to go out to the respective memberships for their consideration, needless to say, but those around the bargaining table agreed on that.
So you've got an issue on the bargaining table that was discussed. A conclusion was come to; there was some progress made. And then, within hours, the government is actually taking yet another step -- one that was not successful at the bargaining table -- in pulling these sectors together. I think there are a lot of questions that come out of this legislation. They are questions that should be considered rationally in a rational debate. What we find is that there is not any urgency for this legislation to be pushed forward today. We have a tentative agreement. The minister admitted in his opening comments on this debate this afternoon that this doesn't even start to take effect until we get into the negotiations for the collective agreements that will expire three years from now. So there is no urgency on this.
The responsible approach for this government would be to put this bill out as an exposure bill. This is not the approach that was anticipated. This approach is one that requires and, I
[ Page 17724 ]
think, deserves input from all of those who are going to be affected. It deserves the input from the small unions that is going to be expected by this bargaining unit. It deserves input from the small health care providers around the province who are operating the small home care and home support services. Those are the voices that we have not yet had a chance to hear. That would be the responsible approach for this government to take.
So we are not going to support this legislation if this minister wants to push this bill through today. We're not going to support it, not because we have any fundamental disagreement with the approach that is being taken, but rather because there is time on our hands to do this properly. There is time to get the input. There is time to put this out as an exposure bill, and there is time to deal with this well in advance of the collective bargaining which has to start taking place two or two and a half years from now.
In concluding, I would just like to say that I appreciate the more rational approach that this government is taking, which is not what was expected. But I think the minister can ensure that that rational approach is truly the outcome of this bill by ensuring that there is enough time for that input from all of those who could be affected across this province.
P. Priddy: I rise to vigorously support Bill 23 and encourage all members of the House to do this. I'm not going to speak to the past history and the Dorsey report. I want to talk about the workers out there, the employers and the people who actually receive the service that we're talking about. Let us not lose sight of the fact that this is about people who are receiving a health care service.
The fact that this particular legislation
Think about people who are doing this work in the acute care sector -- but particularly in the community care sector, because we are trying to take down, brick by brick, the wall between the acute care sector and the community sector. I'd kind of like it if we could just blow the wall up and it would happen faster. Think about the people who are working in that sector. Why do they choose to do this? Why do they choose to go and get education and training in order to have the skills to do this job? Let's be very clear: this is a job that requires education and training and skills.
Well, if I think about it, I'm pretty sure it's not because they're the best paid. So I'm pretty sure the salary didn't do it. And I'm pretty sure it's not because there's a public perception -- and by the way, there should be -- that this is a high status, valued job in the community. So why do people do this? Well, they do it because they care about people. They do it because they want to make a difference. That's why they've gone and gotten that education and training.
They want to make the same kind of difference whether they're providing that care in an acute care facility or in a community care facility. Often they're providing it to the same person, because there's often a movement back and forth. I don't mean it's the most common, but it's not uncommon to see someone who is either in their own home with support or in a community care facility enter hospital for testing. Or they may have an illness or pneumonia that needs to be treated. Whatever that might be, it's the same person.
So the people in the acute care sector who are helping that person to eat or to move or whatever are doing exactly the same thing as the people in the community were doing before this person came to hospital -- helping them to eat and helping them to move and so on. So that work is the same, and why would we not want to value and pay that work equally?
I too want to honour the work that's been done by employers and by employees and by the people represented in the gallery today around bringing this forward. They are indeed the people who do the work every day. And you know, the people who do the work every day actually know more about it than anybody else does. Their advice and their information have been incredibly helpful to us in bringing this legislation forward.
I'm not a very big fan of the term "seamless" -- "seamless service" is a phrase that gets used in the health care field. But there should be a smooth transition across continuum of care. Everybody says that. If someone's in the hospital, there should be a very smooth way for them to receive support in their community and have there be no break in service and no break in the kind of support they might be getting.
What this will do is allow that continuum of care to happen in an easier way. It will make sure that what citizens receive is the best care from the best-trained people in the setting that is most appropriate for them and, on most occasions, also happens to be the most cost-effective setting.
I'm a bit concerned about a quote. I don't have it in front of me, so I wouldn't dream of trying to quote it correctly. There's been some suggestion that this is somehow a gift to people who do this work every day. It's really hard for me to think that it's a gift to acknowledge the value of the quality of the same work done differently in different settings. How is it a gift to recognize the skills required to assist someone to eat in an acute care facility versus the skills that are required to help someone eat in their home or in a long term care facility?
I very carefully do not ever use the word "feeding." That's probably my consciousness around language, but even if somebody needs complete assistance to eat, it's still assistance to eat; it's not feeding. Feeding is a word that takes away any remnant of dignity and respect that people still have.
But how could that be different? If you help someone in the hospital or an acute care facility to bathe and then that person goes home or back to a community care facility, are they bathed with different water, different soap, different towels? I don't know. It seems to me that those are the same skills.
I've taught those skills, and I would suggest that in my experience with both
teaching them and visiting in homes with students, someone trying to do that
particular kind of work
[ Page 17725 ]
still able to be there, but they still do need some assistance -- it is way harder than doing that in an acute care facility. You're working around a really low bed that you have to bend over, and it increases the risk of back injuries, because there aren't beds that go up and down and there aren't lifts to move people or to help people move from their bed to their chair or from their bed to a bathtub. There may not be a bedside table to balance the basin of water -- and all the other things that you're trying to do.
Anybody who's ever tried to help someone wash their hair in a bed at home knows that it's a really difficult, awkward thing to do. I would suggest it's harder than trying to do that in an acute care facility. So how could it be a gift to say: "We know that it takes a lot of skill, and sometimes maybe more skill, to do that kind of work in a community setting or in a home setting"?
Some of the workers we're talking about are responsible for health and safety issues, for standards of cleanliness and so on. And I don't think it's a gift to say that we know that in a community facility the standards of cleanliness and how the floors are washed or how the equipment is looked after or how that standard of cleanliness is maintained is somehow different from how that happens in an acute care setting. It's not. So how could it possibly be a gift to acknowledge that?
The other piece that I think is so important for us to think about is the issue of portability. We need people skills in a variety of places: either in acute care facilities or in community facilities or at home. If we are going to have no move at all towards beginning to even out wages, why should anybody in an acute care sector who may have skills that we need in the community want to do that, when the wages are less, and there's no commitment in any way to bring those closer together? And this is bringing them together, I think, over a significantly long period of time.
Therefore we lose people's skills, because people want to earn a wage, of course, that I think, like everybody, allows them to support their family and make sure that they at least have the kinds of things that we would all like our families to have -- to at least have them be safe and healthy. People aren't going to do that if what we have is a significant difference in wages with no commitment to move towards closing those.
I did hear the opposition say, I think, that they do support this, although they're not going to vote for it. But I think I heard them say they support it. But it needs an exposure bill, because they're worried about what happens with smaller employers and smaller groups of employees. Well, we do have examples in other sectors where there have been changes, with very small employer groups and very small groups of employees. And do you know what? They've worked. We've managed to make them work. So they can work for large employers, but they can also work for small employers. Some people actually make the argument that sometimes it's easier to make it work for smaller employers and smaller employee groups. But we have enough examples in other circumstances, I think, to prove that.
I'm not sure, but I thought I heard a comment, something about: "What will be the impact on patient care or person care of this piece of legislation down the road a bit?" Well, what'll be the impact on patient care down the road a bit if we don't do this, hon. Speaker? We'll lose people's skills; we'll undervalue their skills; they'll move to something else where they think they can get a wage that recognizes the skills they have. So I would suggest, if we do not pass this, that will be the danger of having a negative impact on patients over time.
I am delighted to stand and support this piece of legislation today, and I'm delighted to stand and support the workers that will benefit over time from this piece of legislation. But in the end, the people that we are supporting are the patients or residents or people living in their own homes that receive the service from these workers. Those are the people that we're standing to support when we support this legislation.
Hon. G. Wilson: I hadn't initially intended to speak on this bill, I
must say, although I support it fully in both its intent and its form. But I
rise to speak after hearing the official opposition Health critic raise a number
of points that, first, cast into question the timing of the introduction of this
bill and, second, talk about the need for us to have more time in order to
properly consult on the bill. For those that are observing or reading about this
I do find it interesting that the primary issue the member brought forward was that of the correlation or connection that this bill may have to the collective bargaining process -- the latest collective bargaining a case in point -- and the timing of the introduction of this bill.
Now, what's interesting about that is that the member suggests that somehow this was brought in late on a Friday at the last moment. Well, first of all, it wasn't late on a Friday, and secondly, it has to be noted and should be noted for the record that the minister fully conferred with the member opposite with respect to the intent of the bill, the content of the bill and the timing of the bill prior to its introduction. So there was absolutely nothing untoward about its timing.
The members opposite scream daily for an election. They want us to get the
legislative agenda completed in this chamber as quickly as we can, and we're
doing that. We are moving forward. I think this will become one more example of
a contrast between what the members on this side of the House believe in and
what the members on that side of the House believe in. They have learned the art
of speaking out of both sides of their mouths with an ability that I think is
second to none anywhere in British Columbia. These members opposite will
constantly stand up here
An Hon. Member: Which party are you a member of?
Hon. G. Wilson: Hon. member, which party am I a member of? I'm a member of the most progressive party in this province, one that I can tell you is going to knock you down in the next election. You know why I'm a member of this party, hon. Speaker? This is a classic example of why I'm standing as a member of this party. It's because those regressive people on that side of the House will oppose a progressive piece of legislation that will be able to bring into place a system for the provision of health care that not only will be good for those people who receive health care -- the public of British Columbia -- but also will provide fairness and equity to those who provide the services themselves.
[ Page 17726 ]
So the introduction of this bill, which happened after we had a tentative
It's interesting that when the minister spoke with the official opposition critic -- and in the initial reaction when we tabled this bill for first reading -- the opposition comments coming from the members opposite were clear, decisive and definitive. They opposed it, opposed it and opposed it in principle, in form and in substance. There was no doubt where they stood. But because we're heading into an election and because they've had a visit from people who work in the system -- and clearly the member opposite has understood how that kind of open, honest and direct comment, which is the correct way to proceed, would not in fact help their election chances -- he has now couched his opposition in all kinds of flowery language.
He's now saying that he's not really opposed to it; it really wasn't as bad as he thought it might be. It didn't have the clandestine, horrible kinds of things in it that he was out telling British Columbians that it would have in it. He was actually wrong on that point, as they are wrong on most of what they tell British Columbians. Oh no, now that he's had a chance to actually confer and consult with people who are actually in the business of providing health care, he doesn't think it's that bad a deal. In fact, he thinks it might even be a pretty good deal. But notwithstanding the fact that he thinks it might be a pretty good deal, he thinks we should just put it out for exposure, because six long years is not enough time for us to actually address this question and finally put an end to what is in fact a bad system. Six years wasn't enough, he said. "Put it out for exposure."
Let's be really clear. Let us be clear, and let us be honest in this. The members opposite are heavily funded by pharmaceutical companies, by doctors and by the corporate world of British Columbia. They took, just last year alone, $6 million in corporate donations. That's who bought and paid for those members opposite. They represent those companies, the pharmaceuticals, the doctors, those people in health care who would like to see a privatized system of care -- particularly in the sector where extended care is provided for people who are receiving care at home.
That's why they want it as an exposure bill, because it stands in the way of their attempts to put in place a two-tiered health care system where they will privatize the system and provide private care. That's why. These members opposite are going to sell off our health system, our education system, our hydro system. The Leader of the Official Opposition, having received over $6 million in one year alone in corporate donations -- $6 million -- will become British Columbia's number one realtor -- number one real estate agent.
The only thing is that he's been paid his commission up front; they've already paid the commission. That is why, in the opposition to this bill, we understand the transparency of the kind of doublespeak we just heard from the member opposite, the official critic. In the one case he stands up and says it's really not that bad; in the other instance he's turning around and saying they're going to vote against it. I say shame on the members opposite! Let's be clear what their agenda is. The members on this side of the House know that this is a good bill, long overdue, and I am very proud to stand and support it.
The Speaker: The hon. Minister of Health, to close debate.
Hon. C. Evans: It is my intention to close debate, and after that, I hope you all have a vote and call division, and we'll actually see whether or not the opposition critic and his sisters and brothers are for the bill or opposed to it. I will respond to the things that I thought he said in as logical a way as I can, because if this is a real debate, then I'm sure that the people are actually listening, and I might affect the outcome of their vote.
The hon. critic's first point was that he didn't like the timing. He said that it was brought in last thing on a Friday, when the press doesn't pay attention.
An Hon. Member: Last thing Thursday, he said.
Hon. C. Evans: No, actually, he said last thing Friday. If he had said
last thing Thursday, that would have been news. But he said last
You want me to hurry up?
The Speaker: No, I want you to speak through the Chair, minister.
Hon. C. Evans: Oh, through the Chair.
We introduced this bill, hon. Speaker, at exactly the right moment in
history. For six years people talked about it. It couldn't come into this House
until there was an agreement. One hour after there was an agreement, in the
interests of transparency I walked in here
Exactly what, hon. critic, would you have liked us to do? It seems to me that the job of the people who get paid by the citizens to govern is to actually govern. This is the room where government does its job. Exactly an hour after there was an agreement, we brought it in here, and you don't like the timing. So we gave them three days: "Go home and talk to your citizens. See if maybe they don't like it." Have you made the phone calls? Hon. critic, you had three days.
An Hon. Member: Talk through the Speaker.
Hon. C. Evans: Through the Speaker to the raisin brains opposite, did you ask those people at home? You had three days. Did you ask them?
The hon. critic said it was a secret. Hon. member, is that why we walked outside and did an interview with the press to say that the government was actually proud of what we just did? Is that trying to hide? That's your first argument devas-
[ Page 17727 ]
tated. We didn't introduce it in secret. We told the world in the people's building and went out and told the press so that they'd tell the people at home. Then we sent you home to ask your voters what they thought, and you didn't do that. You didn't do that because you don't want to know, because you're getting ready to vote against it.
And his second point was: "Gee, it's a pretty good bill. I actually read
it, went through it clause by clause, and it's a pretty good bill." Hon.
Speaker, I appreciate that. What it usually means is
In about two minutes we're going to get a chance to do something by consensus
in front of the people that care, in front of the whole world. We've been
talking about it for six years. The hon. critic says he liked it. All right,
take five minutes. Go home. Phone some citizens and see what they want you to
do. Or is it only your leader or the Fraser Institute
Anyway, hon. Speaker -- lowering my voice -- he said in his third point that he was going to vote against the bill, which he read and liked, because he thought we should talk about it some more. In my initial comments I pointed out that in the light of day, with everybody watching, we went through the Dorsey process. Dorsey recommended a series of steps. Some of the people opposite -- certainly that member -- were in the Legislature at that time and already went through the debate about Dorsey. If you didn't like the debate you had in here -- first reading, second reading, committee stage, to ask every single question -- then you had six years to go out and ask people in the outside what they thought about it.
I can understand their position. If it's a brand-new idea
I submit that as soon as I sit down and you call second reading, hon. Speaker, people are going to come in here and vote out of their ideology. They're going to vote for whose side they think they're on. I think they're going to come in here in two minutes and vote according to whose side they're on -- not because of the content of the legislation, because they read it and they liked it; not because of the timing, and because they had six years to think about it; but because of whose side they're on, and the idea of doing a fair thing for thousands of workers is not in the interest of the people who they work for.
If anything I'm saying isn't true, I challenge the member opposite to stand up, enter the debate and explain how I'm wrong. The silence when I'm through talking will prove my prophecy is correct. You'll be voting in two minutes according to who you work for.
Hon. Speaker, you call second reading. We'll call their bluff and see where everybody stands. I call division.
Second reading of Bill 23 approved on the following division:
|YEAS -- 38|
|NAYS -- 33|
|J. Wilson||Barisoff||van Dongen|
Bill 23, Health Authorities Amendment Act, 2001, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Janssen: I call committee stage on Bill M202.
AMENDMENT ACT, 2001
The House in committee on Bill M202; D. Streifel in the chair.
On section 1.
S. Orcherton: As we go through this, I've got some people that are assisting me in terms of technical advice. I'd like to let the members of the House know who they are. With me today are Ms. Judy Kubrak, the director of the Vancouver Island Citizens Supporting Complementary Medicine, and Mr. Randy Gomm, the director of the lower mainland Citizens Supporting Complementary Medicine. And in addition, on my right is Dr. Stephen Malthouse. He is the president of the Canadian Complementary Medical Association. All three of these individuals have offered me assistance and support in crafting this legislation, and I'll be relying on them for advice where I need it as we go through clause by clause.
I believe, hon. Chair, the appropriate motion is that I would move the amendment to section 1 of Bill M202 that is standing in my name on the orders of the day.
[ Page 17728 ]
[SECTION 1, by deleting the proposed definition of "complementary medicine" and substituting the following:On the amendment.
"complementary medicine" means, with reference to a medical condition or ailment of a patient of a medical practitioner, a diagnostic or therapeutic measure that
(a) is used by the medical practitioner to diagnose or treat the condition or ailment of patients of the medical practitioner,
(b) would not customarily be used to diagnose or treat that condition or ailment by most other medical practitioners whose usual practice includes the diagnosis or treatment of that condition or ailment,
(c) poses no greater risk to the health or safety of that patient than does a diagnostic or therapeutic measure in general use for the condition or ailment by the medical practitioners described in paragraph (b), and
(d) presents a reasonable prospect for alleviating the suffering or improving the health of that patient in relation to that condition or ailment;.]
D. Lovick: During second reading I stood in my place and said that I was happy to provide support in principle for this bill, but I did have some questions based on my reading of the official position of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. And at first blush, it would seem that the amendments that appear under the member's name on the order paper have indeed accommodated the questions and the concerns of the college. I'm wondering if he can tell us something about the genesis, reasons, purpose, etc., of the amendments on the order paper.
S. Orcherton: The question is an appropriate one. There is an
amendment in terms of the definition around complementary medicine. The
definition prior to this amendment was
In terms of the member's question regarding the discussions with the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, I believe some discussions have taken place. This is an amendment that I think addresses many of the concerns around the definition of complementary medicine. It actually provides more clarity to the college and to those that are practising complementary or alternative therapies.
On section 1 as amended.
C. Hansen: I wanted to comment on the first section in the preamble where it says: "WHEREAS complementary medicine may improve the lives of British Columbians."
That sentence probably sums up where I think a lot of the concern is around this particular piece of legislation. We have had a tradition on all sides of this House. For this government that's been in office for the last nine and a half years, as well as others, certainly the position that we have taken has been one of supporting evidence-based medicine in British Columbia. I'm wondering if the member can square that reasoning between a commitment by his government and his party to evidence-based medicine and the approach that he's taking here, in particular when we talk about complementary medicine that may improve the lives of British Columbians, as opposed to the traditional evidence-based medicine that we have relied on, basically, on all sides of this House in the past.
S. Orcherton: The member is referring to the preamble. There are some amendments that are being proposed later for the preamble. I wonder if the member would prefer to wait until we get to that point, because it appears we are on section 1 of the act itself.
C. Hansen: I stand corrected -- my apologies. I realize that we will be dealing with that at the end.
But the definition that the member has, as it now stands for debate, leads to a series of questions that I wanted to ask the member about. When you talk, in the opening, about a diagnostic or therapeutic measure, I'm wondering if the member could define for us what a therapeutic measure is.
S. Orcherton: Therapeutic measure simply means treatment that the patient may or may not undergo.
C. Hansen: If you go on to subsection (b) of this amendment, it says: "would not customarily be used." We're talking about a diagnostic or therapeutic measure that would not customarily be used by most other medical practitioners to diagnose or treat a condition or ailment. Could the member define for us how we determine what would not customarily be used? In fact, who determines whether or not a therapeutic measure or diagnostic procedure is not customarily used?
S. Orcherton: "Customarily" can be taken, I think, in this context to mean what the majority of doctors who are licensed through the College of Physicians and Surgeons are using in terms of therapies. That's what it would mean in the context of clause (b): the majority therapy that doctors are using. While there may be other therapies that are available, it's the majority therapy.
C. Hansen: I'm wondering if the member could explain to us how we
S. Orcherton: There are many, many different types of diseases facing people in British Columbia, and there are many different opportunities for treatment and therapies. One could argue that some of them would be a majority opinion on therapies, others an alternative or complementary approach to therapies. That's what this bill is all about. It allows physicians, who are governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons, to look at patients in British Columbia, offer diagnosis and treat the conditions using a variety of tools that could be placed at their disposal.
For some patients those may fall within the majority diagnosis in terms of therapeutic remedies, and for others it
[ Page 17729 ]
may require alternative or complementary therapies. That's what this bill is all about. It allows doctors and patients the freedom to choose what type of therapy they should be engaged in, bearing in mind that every individual circumstance and every individual illness has a capacity to be alleviated by different approaches in each instance.
C. Hansen: With all due respect to the member, I don't think he
answered the question. What's in here is very subjective language. I would argue
that the courts would have a great deal of difficulty in trying to determine an
interpretation for this subjective language that is in here. When he talks about
most other medical practitioners
So you've got a situation where most medical practitioners would not be using that diagnostic or therapeutic procedure. In that context, I wonder if the member envisions that most of these diagnostic procedures that are only practised today by specialists in British Columbia would, in fact, be considered complementary medicine?
S. Orcherton: I think it's well known that the College of Physicians and Surgeons knows who's practising what types of medicine and whether they're in the majority in terms of the methods they pursue. As the member knows, this legislation applies to physicians and surgeons and doctors who are governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons. It's an opportunity to broaden the scope of treatment available. Clearly the college would know who was treating who, in a majority sense, in terms of any given illness. But there are other options that are open, and I think the college would understand those to be the different kinds of approaches that this legislation is purporting to deal with.
C. Hansen: I think the member's explanation underscores the difficulty with the language that's here and its difficulty in terms of the subjective nature of the interpretation of this section. I think we have a responsibility as legislators to ensure that there is specificity in the language that's used here in order to achieve what the member is trying to achieve.
I will move on to subsection (c). Let me just read this in context here.
" 'Complementary medicine' means, with reference to a medical condition or
ailment of a patient of a medical practitioner, a diagnostic or therapeutic
S. Orcherton: I think the key is "poses no greater risk." And physicians who are governed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons in British Columbia have the capacity, the training and the education to determine which therapies have attached which risk for which individual patients, given their individual circumstances. I think that's been in place for some time, and I don't think this definition is as broad as the member would make out. I think it actually is appropriate, and I think it allows a check and balance to be left in place in terms of what kinds of therapies can be applied. The key here is the phrase "no greater risk."
I'm not sure exactly where the member is coming from on this. It seems to me that this is a fairly narrow definition in terms of complementary medicine, in terms of this legislation.
C. Hansen: Just so that I interpret the member's answer appropriately, do I interpret the member's answer to be that "no greater risk" would in fact be determined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia?
S. Orcherton: Yes, they would be determined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons reviewing the current literature on different therapies.
C. Hansen: It's one thing for the member to stand up and say that the
word of the college would apply in this case, but I guess my concern is that
that's not how the legislation reads. So instead of specifying in here,
"poses no greater risk to the health and safety of that patient as
determined by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia
I'm wondering if the member would consider an amendment to that section to be more specific, along the lines of his previous explanation.
S. Orcherton: As the member knows, this is a self-regulating profession. This legislation is entirely about and applicable to the relationship between the College of Physicians and Surgeons and its membership. All of the clauses, definitions and aspects of this act relate to the College of Physicians and Surgeons and their responsibility to ensure the public safety in terms of medical treatments and medical therapies.
C. Hansen: With all respect to the member, I think the philosophical
intent of the bill is not what we're debating here. What we are debating is the
So I'm wondering if the member would entertain an amendment to specify that this determination of "no greater risk" is in fact determined by a decision by the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
S. Orcherton: I'm advised that it's inherent in the act that the College of Physicians and Surgeons do have that responsibility. Just for the member's benefit, I'm not trying to wax
[ Page 17730 ]
philosophical here. I am trying to answer his questions; I think they are important ones. But it is the College of Physicians and Surgeons, at the end of the day, that makes a determination on these questions in terms of risk which are detailed in (c) under the definition of complementary medicine. So de facto, it is the College of Physicians and Surgeons, and it doesn't, in my view, require an amendment.
C. Hansen: Perhaps the member could explain to me where in the act it gives the power to the College of Physicians and Surgeons to interpret the act, which, in my understanding, is a purview of the courts in British Columbia. Perhaps the member could enlighten us.
S. Orcherton: I believe what the member is seeking is under section
53(1), "Inquiry," which says: "The council or the executive
committee may, and if requested in writing by 3 members in good standing of the
college must, cause an inquiry committee to inquire into a charge or complaint
made against a member of the college
C. Hansen: I think the member may have misinterpreted that section. That's purely to do with the structuring of an inquiry. Certainly if there is a provision in the Medical Practitioners Act that gives the power to the college to interpret the act, this is the legislation that actually sets out the parameters in which the college must operate. It would clearly be inappropriate for any of the colleges in health care in British Columbia to be given the power to give their own interpretation to the provisions of the legislation. So I would argue that the member is mistaken in that response and that in fact there is nothing in here that says that the college can have the power to define what is or is not "no greater risk." I'm asking, once again, if the member would consider an amendment to this in order to specify that this power to define that is, in fact, vested with the college.
S. Orcherton: Perhaps I can be of more assistance to the member, in terms of this discussion, by referring him to section 3 of the act, which says that the college has the following objectives, and there's a number laid out. Most notably, I think, in terms of this issue, it is to govern members according to this act and the rules. This definition, if passed, would apply under that argument "to govern members according to this Act and the rules," and therefore the college would have the authority to deal with these questions around risk.
C. Hansen: Frankly, the member is not accurate in his interpretation of those sections, because there is nowhere in this act where it gives the college the power to interpret the clauses of the act. That is the authority of our courts. I would have thought that he's been a member of this House long enough to appreciate that. But I gather we're not getting anywhere.
I will move on to subsection (d), where they say: "presents a reasonable prospect for alleviating the suffering or improving the health of that patient in relation to that condition or ailment." I'd like to ask the member who determines whether or not there is a reasonable prospect for alleviating suffering.
S. Orcherton: The College of Physicians and Surgeons.
C. Hansen: Again, the same thing applies here as in our discussion on subsection (c), in that there is nothing that specifies that the college in fact has that power to interpret the legislation. I'd like to suggest there are some critical flaws with the wording that the member has chosen for this definition.
I'd like to give an example to the member. This is an example of a patient who comes into a hospital with an injured ankle. We don't really know whether the ankle is broken. It may be sprained; there could be a bunch of things wrong. It used to be, in previous years, that more often than not the doctor would have that ankle X-rayed, just to make sure there was no fracture in the ankle.
Well, in recent years a new protocol has been developed. There are protocols that have been developed throughout health care. One of the protocols that's been developed is something called the Ottawa protocol -- I assume because it was developed in Ottawa; I'm not sure of the rationale for it -- which actually says to doctors that if a patient presents with an injured ankle, there is a procedure they go through to manually inspect the ankle, and if there aren't certain indications, then an X-ray is not warranted. So it's a great protection to the doctor.
A doctor was telling me that he had a patient in the emergency room in the hospital when he was on emergency room duty. She was a teenager, and the mother was adamant that this patient should be X-rayed. The doctor said no. He checked out the daughter according to the Ottawa protocol and said that an X-ray was not warranted. The mother stormed out of the operating room with her limping daughter, threatening to sue the doctor and the hospital for not performing the X-ray. So this protocol is there to ensure that there is good patient care, responsible patient care, but also to protect the doctor for making a diagnosis according to a standard that is acceptable.
Today in British Columbia a patient presenting with an injured ankle more often than not would not be getting an X-ray. If I read through the definition of complementary medicine the member has put forward, we then have a doctor who is practising complementary medicine if he should decide to automatically go to an X-ray rather than follow the Ottawa protocol that is there. I'm wondering if the member can explain to me how it is that a doctor who asks for an X-ray to be done on an injured ankle can be providing complementary medicine as defined in his definition.
S. Orcherton: It's an interesting example that the member gave. I'll just pause and reflect and share something that occurred in my family on this issue.
My wife presented herself with a problem with her foot and didn't receive an X-ray and was treated for an infection. It turned out that she had a broken foot. At the end of the day, she ended up having a cast on her foot and used a tremendous amount of antibiotics, which caused additional difficulties to her health circumstance.
By way of your example and my example, I think that the college has some very good people working inside its organization -- doctors and physicians. There are many different opportunities for treatment. And what (d) speaks to is the "reasonable prospect for alleviating the suffering or improv-
[ Page 17731 ]
ing the health," not making decisions
C. Hansen: I want to come back
If we walk through the four sections to the definition, as he's presented them, with the example that I gave about somebody presenting with an injured ankle, let's say, you wind up with this.
" 'Complementary medicine' means, with reference to a medical condition or ailment of a patient of a medical practitioner, a diagnostic or therapeutic measure that
"(a) is used by the medical practitioner to diagnose or treat the condition or ailment of patients of the medical practitioner."
If this doctor decides he's going to go straight to an X-ray, he fits that.
But again, that applies here, because most would now be using the Ottawa protocol.
"(b) would not customarily be used to diagnose or treat that condition or ailment by most other medical practitioners whose usual practice includes the diagnosis or treatment of that condition or ailment
. . . ."
Again, that doctor going to an X-ray meets that standard.
"(c) poses no greater risk to the health or safety of that patient than does a diagnostic or therapeutic measure in general use for the condition or ailment by the medical practitioners described in paragraph (b)
. . . ."
So (d) also applies.
"(d) presents a reasonable prospect for alleviating the suffering or improving the health of that patient in relation to that condition or ailment."
So in the example I've put forward, we wind up with a patient being sent to the emergency room of a hospital to get an X-ray. That doctor is practising complementary medicine. I would invite the member to prove my case otherwise.
S. Orcherton: Offering a definition for complementary medicine doesn't mean that complementary medicine is anything, potentially, other than what the member talks about. It's offering therapies that can, in the view of a physician and the patient, offer assistance. So it doesn't put complementary medicine above traditional therapies. Nor does it put it below. It simply recognizes complementary medicine and provides a definition that -- the member could well be right -- is applicable in every circumstance. It's an opportunity to define in this legislation that there are alternatives and there are definitions that could be applied to it.
C. Hansen: I think the important point is that there are ramifications
to this definition. There are ramifications to the bill he's putting in, because
if that doctor were to be investigated for doing an X-ray on a patient when most
other doctors may have followed the protocol, he would be subject to
Section 1 as amended approved on division.
On section 2.
S. Orcherton: I move the amendment to section 2 standing in my name on the orders of the day.
[SECTION 2, by deleting the proposed subsection (1.1) and substituting the following:
(1.1) A rule under subsection (1) must not unreasonably interfere with the option of a medical practitioner to practise complementary medicine.]
On section 2 as amended.
C. Hansen: All these amendments were only presented to us a few hours before this session started this afternoon. I'm wondering if the member can explain to the House what the impact of this amendment is.
S. Orcherton: The previous wording in the bill may have been capable of an overly broad interpretation which would have completely removed the ability to establish standards for physicians practising complementary medicine. This amendment clarifies that physicians performing complementary medicine may be required to do so in accordance with the same standards established for that form of medicine.
Section 2 as amended approved on division.
On section 3.
C. Hansen: Again, in this section I think we have some problems with interpretation and who does the interpretation. We talk here about a person "seeking registration under this section must not be found to have failed to comply with the requirements." I'm wondering if the member could explain to us who determines whether or not there has been compliance.
S. Orcherton: My apologies to the member. I wonder if he could repeat the question.
C. Hansen: The amendment that is being proposed is: "A person
seeking registration under this section must not be found to have failed to
comply with the requirements of subsection (1)(b)
S. Orcherton: The College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Section 3 approved on division.
On section 4.
C. Hansen: At this point, when we start talking about the investigating committee that may be in place, it may be
[ Page 17732 ]
S. Orcherton: I think the member's answer is in section 51(1).
C. Hansen: Actually, what I'll do is move on to the next section for my next questions.
Section 4 approved on division.
On section 5.
C. Hansen: In this section what we have is: "An inquiry committee appointed under subsection (3) to investigate a member of the college who practises complementary medicine or uses non-traditional therapies must include a representative of the Association of Complementary Physicians of British Columbia." First of all, there is a reference here to non-traditional therapies, and yet that is not defined. I wonder if the member could explain to us what his definition of non-traditional therapies is.
S. Orcherton: In this context, non-traditional therapies are those that are not taught in medical schools.
C. Hansen: That's a very disturbing definition because that's so open-ended. It could include anything. Certainly we have seen some very serious cases that have been reviewed by the medical profession throughout North America, where colleges -- not just in British Columbia but elsewhere -- have had to discipline medical practitioners who are using techniques that are definitely not taught in medical schools. I think most people in the public, including those in the Association of Complementary Physicians of British Columbia, would probably support the fact that some physicians have been disciplined when they have practised certain forms of non-traditional therapy.
Clearly there is an issue of where the line is drawn here. I wonder why the member, in the wording of this legislation, didn't just leave it at "complementary medicine," which is defined, as opposed to referring to "complementary medicine or uses non-traditional therapies."
S. Orcherton: The intent of this amendment to the act is to ensure that there is a process in place that is fair when looking at those who practise complementary medicine or non-traditional therapies. I'm advised that the Association of Complementary Physicians of British Columbia does not condone the use of any therapies that put the patient at risk or have a potential to cause harm, and they've been very public on that question.
C. Hansen: I think the difficulty with the wording that the member has chosen for this, though, is that it is so open-ended. We recently had a court case in Vancouver -- not before the college but before the courts -- of a psychiatrist who was practising some very non-traditional therapies and, as a result, was found guilty of the offences that were brought against him in the court. I'm wondering how the member rationalizes his wording in here with those types of non-traditional therapies, which I think everybody in the public has great concern about.
S. Orcherton: It's not the question regarding non-traditional therapies that I think the member is getting at. I think the member is getting at the question around harm. If non-traditional therapies cause no harm, then they should be considered by both the physician and the patient. I hope that helps the member.
Section 5 approved.
Section 6 approved on division.
The Chair: Member for Vancouver-Quilchena, just a clarification on section 5. It's not necessarily protocol to go back and review it, but all the other votes have been called on division. Section 5 was not. Was the intention to call it on division?
C. Hansen: Yes.
The Chair: Section 5 is recorded as passed on division.
On section 7.
S. Orcherton: I move the amendments to section 7 standing in my name on the orders of the day and also the amendment to section 7 that is in the possession of the Clerk.
The Chair: The hon. member for Victoria-Hillside is on which amendment?
S. Orcherton: The one in the possession of the Clerk.
[SECTION 7, in the proposed subsection (3) by deleting "a greater risk to a patient's health that the traditional or prevailing practice." and substituting "a greater risk to a patient's health than the traditional or prevailing practice."]
On the amendment to section 7, section 80(3).
S. Orcherton: Just for the information of the members opposite, it is simply a typographical error. In the last sentence of section 80(3), "patient health that the traditional" should be "than the traditional." It's just a typographical error that was picked up by the Clerk's office today.
The Chair: Shall the amendment in the hands of the Clerk pass? Vancouver-Quilchena on the amendment in the hands of the Clerk.
C. Hansen: I seek some guidance from the Chair on this. Certainly we can dispense with these amendments, although I do have a question about one of the amendments that's being proposed. But I would also like us to deal with subsections (2) and (3) separately. I seek guidance from the Chair as to how we can proceed on that basis.
The Chair: I was actually hoping the members would give the Chair guidance today on this. As a matter of fact, it's not normally the way, member, that we would deal with a clause such as this. But if the request is for leave to proceed in that manner, I'll put the question. Shall leave be granted?
[ Page 17733 ]
The Chair: We're on the amendment that is in the hands of the Clerk.
S. Orcherton: So that I'm clear, the amendment that's in the hands of the Clerk is the typographical error.
The Chair: That's correct. Shall the amendment in the hands of the Clerk pass?
The Chair: Now we're dealing with the amendment on the order paper.
On the amendment to section 7, section 80(2).
[SECTION 7, in the proposed subsection (2),
(a) by deleting "freedom" and substituting "option", and
(b) by deleting "hope" and substituting "reasonable hope".]
C. Hansen: I assume that doesn't have to be moved by the member, then. Is that appropriate? Okay. So we're just dealing with the first one in terms of freedom and substituting "option" in the place of "freedom." Is that my understanding? That's fine.
The Chair: Would you just give us a minute here to sort out the amendments, members.
On section 7, section 80(2) as amended.
C. Hansen: I found the amendment interesting, because it
The Chair: We have the proponent of the amendment.
S. Orcherton: There were two amendments to section 80(2). One amendment was dealing with changing the word "freedom" to "option." The other amendment was in the fourth line, adding a word to say: "It offers the reasonable hope." I'm not sure whether we've dealt with both of those or one of them.
The Chair: Member, both of those amendments have been passed. Now we're dealing with subsection (2) as amended.
C. Hansen: It was obviously a very deliberate move to amend this reference to offering hope of saving lives to offering "reasonable" hope of saving lives. I wonder if the member can explain why he felt that that particular amendment was significant in this particular case?
S. Orcherton: To say "offering hope" is a very, very broad statement. I think it's important that the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the doctors that are members and the patients understand that it's the intent of this clause to ensure that reasonable hope is offered. It seemed like an appropriate amendment in terms of the broadness of the word "hope" itself.
Section 7, section 80(2) as amended approved on division.
On section 7, section 80(3) as amended.
C. Hansen: Throughout the second reading debate, we heard a lot about what was happening in other provinces vis-à-vis complementary medicine and amendments to comparable legislation in other provinces. We often heard about what was done in Alberta and what was done in Ontario with regard to their wording. This wording that's contained here in this particular subsection -- that's going to be subsection (3), which is going to be added to section 80 of the Medical Practitioners Amendment Act. This essentially delivers on what happens in other provinces. If this act were modeling itself after what happened in other provinces, we would be able to support this.
Quite frankly, we can support this particular subsection because it is consistent with the practice that's currently happening in British Columbia today. It does ensure that there is a recognition of complementary medicine, and as I said in my second reading remarks last week, we support complementary medicine. But what we don't support, which is behind this bill, is the way in which the member has chosen to bring in restrictions on the ability of the College of Physicians and Surgeons to act in a way that ensures the public interest is protected. So we in the official opposition are certainly pleased to support this particular subsection.
S. Orcherton: It is true that that clause is featured in various jurisdictions, not only in Canada but similarly in North America. The difficulty is that when there are circumstances that occur that require investigation and looking into regarding issues around complementary medicine and issues with the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the processes that flow out of this particular clause in other jurisdictions have nowhere to be enacted upon or engaged in. This bill provides that. It provides a mechanism to allow for a process to occur should there be some difficulties. I just note that in this, there is again the reference to "non-traditional." I'm not sure if it offers some comfort to the member to see that that phrase is in subsection (3) or not, but it is. Well, I'll add my comments there on that particular issue.
Section 7, section 80(3) as amended approved unanimously on a division. [See Votes and Proceedings.]
Section 7, section 80 as amended approved.
Section 8 approved.
On the preamble.
S. Orcherton: I move the amendment to the preamble standing in my name on the orders of the day.
[PREAMBLE, by deleting "AND WHEREAS medical practitioners are prohibited by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia from practising complementary medicine."]
[ Page 17734 ]
Preamble as amended approved on division.
S. Orcherton: I move the committee rise, report the bill complete with amendments and ask leave to sit again.
The Chair: Order, hon. members, please. There has been a division called. I need to get clarification on that. The Chair didn't hear the call. Has division been called? Yes, division is called.
Members, please take your seats. We have a division here. Are the members prepared to waive the time limits on this?
The Chair: The Chair has just asked a question. Order, please. Are the members prepared to waive the time limits on this?
Motion approved unanimously on a division. [See Votes and Proceedings.]
The House resumed; the Speaker in the chair.
Bill M202, Medical Practitioners Amendment Act, 2001, reported complete with amendments to be considered at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. G. Janssen: I call second reading of Bill 13.
ELECTRONIC TRANSACTIONS ACT
Hon. C. McGregor: I'm pleased to rise in support of and move second reading of Bill 13, the Electronic Transactions Act.
As I mentioned in my first reading notes, British Columbia is the most connected province in the country, and British Columbians are the leaders in the use of Internet technology. We're the only jurisdiction in North America that has every single one of our schools and post-secondary institutions connected to the Internet.
Statistics Canada surveys consistently rank British Columbia citizens and businesses amongst the top users of computers and the Internet. The British Columbia government has been a leader in using information technology to change the way it works and delivers services since the mid-1980s, with services such as B.C. OnLine, Teleplan and PharmaNet. The InfoSmart strategy and the recent announcement of the new B.C. Connects web site portal for government services is an example of their continuing efforts in this regard.
Hon. Speaker, the Internet is changing the world, and commercial activity on the Internet is expanding at a phenomenal rate. Industry Canada estimates that Canadian Internet commerce will grow to just over $100 billion in 2003, up from about $8 billion in 1998. Some have suggested that we are witnessing the greatest development the world has seen since the wheel.
Nonetheless, rapid advances in technology have challenged some of our traditional legal processes. The speed at which some of the technical solutions have been implemented threatens to outpace the legal rules that have traditionally supported commercial relationships. For example, our legal system has relied on traditional paper-based evidence and natural signatures, and there has been much uncertainty as to whether electronic documents, contracts and signatures will have the same force in effect in law.
Even though the evolution of e-commerce has been rapid, certain factors have hindered its growth, contributing to a lack of public confidence in electronic transactions. The key factors are uncertainty about the legality and enforceability of electronic transactions, concern about the protection of personal information and concern about consumer protection issues generally.
The principal purpose of the Electronic Transactions Act is to deal with the first factor mentioned: to remove any uncertainty about the legality and enforceability of electronic transactions conducted in British Columbia.
With respect to privacy, B.C. is already a leader in protecting personal information. Our Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act is viewed as a model for public sector legislation. The federal government's Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act goes a long way to protecting personal information in the private sector but does leave some gaps that can only be filled by provincial legislation. A special committee of the Legislature has recently reported out on the protection of personal information in the private sector, and I certainly expect that our government will take steps to address any remaining issues concerning the protection of personal information in the private sector.
Consumer protection is also important, and British Columbia's Consumer Protection Act provides consumers with protection that is similar to that found across Canada. Now, as a result of the Electronic Transactions Act, British Columbians will have some protection when shopping on line as well. For instance, the Electronic Transactions Act will ensure that consumers have the ability to confirm their orders and correct any errors before their orders are processed. Most Internet shopping sites already have this feature, but this bill will guarantee that consumers will have this protection.
I'd like to look at an example. A B.C. businesswoman makes a decision to reserve air travel on line. She clicks the "pay for the ticket" button and receives a pop-up message that says: "You have requested a return ticket from Victoria to Vancouver, Washington, for $100." She realizes she's hit the wrong button somewhere, because she really wants to travel not to Vancouver, Washington, but to Vancouver, British Columbia, and she can then correct the mistake. That pop-up window appears thanks to section 17 of the Electronic Transactions Act, which stipulates that a consumer must have the opportunity to review and correct a transaction before finally committing to it. The Electronic Transactions Act provides both B.C. businesses and consumers with the choice and protection they need.
[ Page 17735 ]
The Electronic Transactions Act has five parts. Part 1 is a set of definitions and sets out its applications and exceptions. Part 2 is really the core of the legislation. It deals with functional equivalents. It sets out the basic rules that ensure equivalent treatment of electronic documents, signatures and information with traditional paper-based documents, signatures and information.
Part 3 sets out rules for particular electronic transactions, including the formulation and operation of contracts, the use of automated transactions and the correction of errors and presumed time and place of the receipt of messages. It would require a consumer to have the ability to review and confirm a transaction before it is processed. Part 4 contains special provisions related to the carriage of goods permitting electronic bills of lading and other related shipping documents. Part 5 contains the provisions for making regulation.
This bill is based on work done at the international and national level. The United Nations adopted a model law on electronic commerce in November of 1996. This model law then formed the basis of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada, which endorsed a model Uniform Electronic Commerce Act in September of 1999. B.C. was represented at that conference. The bill before the Legislature is substantially similar to the product of the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. It has been refined slightly, however, as a number of other provinces and the federal government have enacted similar legislation, and we have incorporated some of the improvements made since the model act was developed.
The Electronic Transactions Act will apply to commercial relationships and all other legal relationships requiring documentation in British Columbia. It will apply to both the public and the private sector. It adopts an approach whereby rules of capacity are transformed into rules of proof: have I met the standard? It does not mandate the use of electronic communications, but it allows for their use, provided all parties consent. It removes doubt about the legal uncertainty of an electronic transaction. It is technology-neutral in that specific technologies are not mentioned or favoured over others.
British Columbia is not the first province to bring in this legislation, but we are in good company. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, the Yukon and Nova Scotia governments have introduced and passed similar legislation within the past 18 months. Quebec has introduced legislation, and the federal government has passed, as I noted earlier, the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act.
Many other countries around the world are also moving in this direction. Australia's Electronic Transactions Act came into effect in 2000. The United States passed legislation last year as well. Ireland, the U.K. and India are also planning to introduce legislation.
Here in B.C. the bill would help both small and large businesses. It will enable home-based businesses and small startup enterprises in rural communities to compete on a national and international stage. Opportunities exist for B.C. companies to use the Internet to quickly enter the marketplace by offering competitive products with substantially reduced overhead costs.
We're not forcing businesses, of course, to conduct their business on line. But the reality is that businesses must adapt to market conditions, and the market is moving towards e-commerce. Today a growing number of contracts are entered into electronically. It only makes sense that in the twenty-first century British Columbians should have a law that says you can do business electronically the same way you can on paper.
By passing this bill the government will be knocking down one more barrier to business and inviting even more new investment in British Columbia. This bill recognizes that electronic commerce is a real and effective way of doing business now and in the future in B.C. This bill is essential if we are going to ensure we are as advanced in our capacity to do business in this new way as other jurisdictions across the world.
Hon. Speaker, I move second reading.
G. Plant: One of the pillars of a free market society is a system of rules that govern the making and enforcement of contracts. In our legal system these rules are largely judge-made. They were developed mostly on a case-by-case basis by common-law courts in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries -- long ago, it seems now, and certainly long before the advent of electronic commerce.
Everyone knows about the growth of e-commerce, but what is less well known is that unique problems arise when transactions leave no paper trail. When people and businesses communicate electronically, the question that arises is: what does it take to establish and prove a binding contract? It's clear that if electronic commerce is to flourish in British Columbia and elsewhere for the benefit of businesses in British Columbia and elsewhere, the old rules around proving a valid contract must be adapted to the new circumstances of virtual transactions.
This bill follows the lead taken in Canada by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada in drafting a model electronic commerce law that answers these questions about the rules of contract in cyberspace. The purpose of this bill is to create a foundation of legal certainty for electronic commerce. This bill generally follows the Uniform Law Conference model, as explained by the minister. Its main thrust is to ensure that business and consumer transactions entered into over the Internet, entered into electronically in any way, are as valid and enforceable as if they were made orally or in writing, subject to appropriate safeguards with respect to security and authenticity.
This bill takes a good step forward. It creates no bureaucracy, it costs taxpayers nothing, and it should make B.C. a better place to do business for everyone. The opposition is delighted to support the Electronic Transactions Act.
Hon. C. McGregor: I appreciate the member opposite's comments. I know he has reviewed the act carefully and worked with the staff in our ministry to make sure that it addressed all the legal issues that can arise from taking this significant step forward. I appreciate his comments today, and I look forward to having further discussion at committee stage. I move second reading.
Bill 13, Electronic Transactions Act, read a second time and referred to a Committee of the Whole House for consideration at the next sitting of the House after today.
Hon. J. Smallwood: I call second reading of Bill 20.
[ Page 17736 ]
DRINKING WATER PROTECTION ACT
Hon. I. Waddell: It's my pleasure to rise and speak on Bill 20. I think this is a very significant bill. It's the bill called the Drinking Water Protection Act. You'll recall the incident in Walkerton, Ontario, not too long ago, where six people died and another I think 2,700 people became ill as a result of the poisoning of the water supply. That was what we call E. coli poisoning. As a result of that there has been a demand, if you like, to make sure that Walkerton never happens in British Columbia, and I believe this bill will ensure that.
In second reading I want to talk generally about the bill and in some detail
about what the bill says. I want to address the problem of Walkerton. What
happened in Walkerton, Ontario? As far as we can determine
Secondly, the province of Ontario did not take a strong role in drinking water regulations. This is very important, because this is a province that had a Conservative government that started to deregulate. They wanted to give big tax breaks to the rich guys. What they did was cut back on services. Now, this is very important for the British Columbia election, and it will be an issue in the British Columbia election. The province of Ontario, then, did not take a strong role in drinking water regulation. The province downloaded responsibility for drinking water regulation and enforcement to local governments without providing resources, training or the necessary power. They downloaded to local government.
Thirdly, the individuals operating the water supply system lacked appropriate
training and did not take appropriate steps
The Speaker: Excuse me, minister. Could I ask you to take your seat for a moment.
The member for Richmond-Steveston rises.
Point of Order
G. Plant: The minister seems to be pursuing at some length a discussion of matters that are before a commission of inquiry in the province of Ontario. It occurs to me that it may well be subject to the application of the subjudice principle.
The Speaker: The minister on the point of order.
Hon. I. Waddell: Perhaps the hon. member could give me the details of why Ontario and this particular inquiry would be under sub judice. You recall that I have mentioned there's a general inquiry going on, and the hon. member will recall that I have mentioned that it's a general problem. I'm outlining the problem as I see Walkerton. I've already said that I'm not prejudging in any way what an inquiry might say.
The Speaker: Further on the point of order, the member for Richmond-Steveston.
G. Plant: Just briefly, Mr. Speaker. It did occur to me, as I was listening to him, that the minister was in fact doing the very thing he claims he wasn't doing by talking about the matters he expected would form the basis of the conclusion of the inquiry commission. That was really what caused me to express my concern.
Hon. I. Waddell: Hon. Speaker, this is not a point of order. This is an attempt by the government to block debate and to bring in the Walkerton aspect of the debate. This is an attempt by the opposition to block debate.
The Speaker: Thank you, minister. I would ask, in the view that it may be a matter which is sub judice, that the members be careful on what they have to say about this, because matters have been held to be sub judice in the past.
Hon. I. Waddell: In the problem of pollution in other jurisdictions, in an Ontario jurisdiction, there was debate in the papers and debate all over the country with respect to what general things went wrong without looking into the specifics of the situation. There was a general acknowledgment that there was a manure problem, that there was a well problem and that there had been, in fact, a cutback in authorities. Power had been devolved to local officials who were unable to handle the matter.
The fourth matter in Walkerton was that the labs conducting the water testing
reported results to the operator of the water supply system. In Ontario there
was no general requirement that the medical health authorities be involved. So
there was no reporting to a supply operator, and even if there had been, there
was no medical officer there. This is the point I'm trying to make
G. Plant: How do you know that?
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I can tell the hon. member to read the newspapers and get reports on the Walkerton inquiry. This is what happened in Walkerton.
G. Plant: You're talking about the inquiry.
Hon. I. Waddell: Well, I'm talking about the general nature of the debate in Ontario.
The Speaker: Order, members.
Hon. I. Waddell: I know the hon. members are very sensitive to this, because it pertains to their policy in British Columbia. I don't want to see a Walkerton in British Columbia.
An Hon. Member: Neither do we.
Hon. I. Waddell: No? Well, I'm not so sure of that -- unless you take some steps.
The Speaker: Minister, could you take your seat, please.
I have cautioned the members speaking to this issue to use care, because matters have been held sub judice in the past. I would ask the minister to take that into account, and I ask all members to speak through the Chair.
[ Page 17737 ]
Hon. I. Waddell: One of the questions is: how can you make sure that you have a system where there is accountability, there is control and someone is responsible -- where there is, if you like, a chain of command and there are enough officials in place, in government or otherwise, that can act on the problems that can arise, as in Walkerton or as in any other place? There have been 220 boil-alert incidents in British Columbia in the past few years. These matters are very, very relevant to British Columbia. We should wake up and heed the warning.
That's what the government has done with this act. The Drinking Water Protection Act addresses each of what I perceived as failures in Ontario. The first thing is that the act establishes a new provincial officer, a drinking water officer, in each of the 18 health regions so that there is someone right there who is responsible, whose priority is the water. That's a first; that's what this act does. The act provides new power for this officer to make preventative orders so that we don't get that manure pile leaking, if you like, into the wells or to make orders to the person responsible for the threat to the drinking water -- clean up the pile. That's what this act does. There's someone there on the ground.
This act didn't just happen overnight. There was a report by the auditor general of British Columbia, who made, I think, 22 recommendations. We implemented many of those recommendations. We held hearings and discussions across the province in, I think, ten areas, in which we heard from people as to what they thought of our plan. We put out a water protection plan so that people could add to it or subtract from it. At the same time, we worked on this bill. We had counsel working with the people in the local areas as we went along, as we heard from them, drafting a bill.
The people said that they wanted a centre in government so that they wouldn't get referred from one ministry to the other ministry to the other ministry. We set up one office in the provincial government; the act talks about that. The office is a combination of the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Health, but they'll work together in one office. That office will be responsible for the 18 drinking water officers. They will report to that office. You will have a system that's centralized so that there's no excuse where it comes from.
Later in the act, we give the local authorities some power -- for example, over some of the control of the watersheds adjacent to their municipality. That's in addition to power that they would normally have. The Premier spoke to the UBCM, the association of municipalities, last October and promised a water bill. This is the result of that promise; it's a promise kept.
The act will include new assessment and reporting requirements both for water systems and for land use activities in the source area. Together, these measures will increase the likelihood that a poorly contained manure pile would come to the attention of the drinking water authority and will provide the authority with the powers to prevent the contamination from occurring. This is why I said that we won't have a Walkerton in British Columbia if we go through this.
In British Columbia we should know that it is a very difficult system to regulate. No doubt the members opposite will say: "Well, you've had ten years. Why haven't you done this before?" The answer is that it's difficult to do. A previous minister tried a number of years ago and was blocked, because it appeared as if it was a tax on rural people with wells. There's no tax in this bill. We've stayed away from that. In fact, we've brought in some measures -- some $11 million worth of funding -- for people to do assessments and testing in the rural areas so that they don't have a big bill to pay.
It's very difficult to get this kind of legislation, because people worry about their own back yard, if you like. They're worried about what it may cost them or what they may have to do -- all kinds of what I would call excuses, if I can use that term. I don't mean to be too harsh in saying that. But there are all kinds of reasons why we shouldn't do things. When Walkerton came along, I think people were prepared for a period to put aside their own rather limited interests in their back yard, for a broader interest. The broader interest is saying: "Let's get a system that works, so we won't have a Walkerton in British Columbia." So that's what we tried to do.
The act requires well-owners
This bill tries to meet some of those concerns. The bill requires well-owners to cap their wells. In some circumstances it will require floodproofing of wells and will establish qualification standards for well-drilling and construction. But the bill doesn't go and say that you can't have that well. It sets up these officers in a local area to try and work with the local people in assessing their district and assessing the kind of repairs and changes that will be needed. In other words, it's a more gradualist approach, but it has responsibility there at the local level. If it's not working, you know who's responsible. It goes from the drinking water officer in the field right up to the ministry here in Victoria.
The community-based drinking water protection plans will be set up. So we go to a community and say: "You need to assess where you're getting your water." As the Minister of Health will tell you, we have something like 3,500 different systems in British Columbia. It's not like Alberta, where it's one kind of system. We have people in the Cariboo who have wells. We have people in the Kootenays who have watersheds -- groundwater. We have people in the Fraser Valley who take it off aquifers. So we have very different systems. This act does include all the different systems. It's flexible enough to have assessments and remedial measures that deal with all these systems, and it has some money in it to boot.
The community-based drinking water protection plans can restrict activities in watersheds or aquifer recharge zones where the activities would threaten drinking water supplies. These measures will provide further protections against contamination.
When we were in the Kootenays, some of the people I met there said: "You shouldn't have any logging in watersheds at all." That's impractical, because in fact there are mixed uses in watersheds in British Columbia. You'd practically close the province down if you outlawed all logging in the watersheds. What you have to do is have a flexible system, and this bill does that. It gives the local people some power so that if the water is threatened, they can take measures that
[ Page 17738 ]
would restrict some of that activity in the watershed. So it can be done, because water is a priority, but it doesn't put a blanket condemnation on mixed uses in watersheds.
Let me try and say that another way. Let's say that there's an agricultural use, and the cattle are coming in and they're in the watershed. That doesn't mean that the watershed is going to be polluted per se. But when they do an assessment and the local water officer looks at the situation, they may want to put some restrictions on the number and extent of the use of cattle in the watershed. He has to work with the local people, but he does have that power. This is a strong bill. It gives new powers to local authority, and that's why this is, in my view, a strong bill.
The act strengthens the role of the provincial government and provincial health officials in drinking water monitoring and enforcement. The Minister of Health is here with me. This is really a health problem; it's tied in with the environment. When the minister and I both approached it and tried to find workable solutions for this bill, we found that we're like Siamese twins here; we're intermingled. That's why we're setting up an authority where there are two ministries working together.
Hon. I. Waddell: Maybe I'd better leave that one alone.
The act strengthens the role of the provincial government, provincial health officials and drinking water monitoring and enforcement. These new drinking water officers will have comprehensive power to enter and inspect water systems on public and private land in order to enforce provincial standards and to ensure that drinking water is protected from source to tap.
So there will be provincial standards. They will be set out by regulations, and we've already passed a regulation to adopt some of the Canadian standards. I say to the Sierra Legal Defence Fund, when they're looking at this bill, that there are standards in this bill. I think we've met the test of what they, in particular, wanted. Substantial new resources are being put into new staff in the field and into helping members of the public test the quality of their water and assess their systems and the sources from which they draw their water.
It's really a very simple system. The bill has some 100 sections, but it's actually quite a simple system: the ministry at the top, with a combination of Environment and Health, the 18 water officers in the field, the new powers that are given to them, the definitions of what they can do and some resources put into it. Much of the action under the bill will be done by government through regulation. So the general system is set up, and then there is regulatory power.
I urge the hon. members to give this bill a chance and pass it before this session is over. We need water legislation in British Columbia, and this may be the chance to do it. The act and its regulations will establish qualification standards for the persons responsible for operating water supply systems, and the province is working with provincial water supply professionals to develop appropriate training systems. So there'll be training involved as well.
The act will also impose new water monitoring standards, which I've mentioned, and operating standards for water supply systems. All suppliers are required by the act to prepare contingency and emergency plans to the satisfaction of provincial authorities. All testing must be performed by labs approved by the province. We want to avoid what could have been the problem in Walkerton. These labs must report all test results directly to the drinking water officer. So the buck will stop someplace, and that's what people told us in the hearings we had across the province.
A new requirement will be imposed for immediate reporting where acute threats are identified, in which circumstances the labs will be required to attempt to reach the supplier and the drinking water officer immediately by phone. So the water is tested. If there's a problem, it's identified, and they have to tell the drinking water officer. It's open and transparent. They have to tell the public. There is responsibility; there's no shirking of responsibility under the act.
Water suppliers also have a new requirement to immediately give notice to all users of a system where an immediate reporting standard is exceeded. I say this to the public: it's not just a government system; it's their system too. They're going to be part of assessing and dealing with their own water supply. I think that's a real first for Canada.
As newspapers reported today, the federal government is thinking of bringing in some legislation. As reported in the Globe and Mail by Martin Mittelstaedt on Thursday, January 18: "Walkerton disasters foreseen across Canada." He warns that unless we have systems like this in every province, we could in fact have another Walkerton. The act also contains public right-to-know provisions, which require publication of all testing and assessment results as well as the water supplier's contingency and emergency plan.
So there you have it. There is, in fact, a summation of the act. I believe this act needs to be done. I believe in it passionately. I went to Nanaimo and listened on a Friday night after a whole day of hearings, and we had a packed hall. I went to Cranbrook and listened to the people. Again, it was packed all day. I met with people in Nelson. I went to other places where there were hearings and discussions.
People want a strong water act. People don't want a Walkerton in British Columbia. People want appropriate government officials in place. They don't want a cutback. If they have a choice between a dramatic tax decrease and having money for these services for water protection, I believe the people will choose water protection. That's why I think this act is very important. The act fits together as a scheme, and I would urge the hon. members to pass this in second reading for support of the bill in principle.
G. Farrell-Collins: I don't intend to speak to the bill more than just a moment, but I want to let the House know that the critic for this legislation -- the member for Saanich North and the Islands -- is currently in a briefing on the piece of legislation, which was arranged for this period of time. That briefing continues, and he'll be unable to join the House at this time to give his second reading address. But he will do so. I believe the bill is coming up again tomorrow for second reading debate. That's the plan, and he'll do so at that time.
I merely want to add that this is a bill that, as the minister said, was some nine or ten years in the making. It's now before the House; it was introduced on Thursday. We now hear that the minister wants it passed in the next week or so.
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It's 73 pages and over 100 sections. I expect that the public will want to spend some time looking at this legislation, and I expect that there will be some time spent in committee stage as well. With that, I just want to let the House know that the critic will be available to speak to the bill tomorrow.
A. Petter: I'm very pleased to be able to stand up and speak in favour of this piece of legislation. I think it is a very important and indeed significant component of this government's ongoing commitment, in this case to deal not only with an issue of health but with an issue that I think is exceedingly important from an environmental point of view in terms of the protection of drinking water in this province.
The minister, I think, has outlined very well the elements of this legislation and how it will work and the process through which it came about. He's also spoken about the threats that we know exist from not protecting drinking water, threats that we've seen result in serious problems of public health and environmental concern in other jurisdictions and indeed even within our own province from time to time. So I think this is legislation that is very important, and I congratulate the minister for having brought it forward at this time. I do hope that the words of the Opposition House Leader do not indicate that the opposition, having said that their policy is going to be to allow legislation to pass, will now try to stonewall or delay this legislation, given its importance and centrality.
But I do want to talk about this legislation in a broader context. I want to talk about this legislation in terms of the larger issues of environmental protection that are before this House but that are also before the people of British Columbia. Certainly if, as I expect, there will shortly be an election in this province, people are going to want to look very carefully in that election at the overall issues of environmental protection and at this legislation in that context. I think -- as was well said by Chris Rolfe, the staff counsel of the West Coast Environmental Law Association, who responded to this legislation -- that this legislation recognizes the threats to drinking water in B.C. and gives government the tools to protect our drinking water. But he then went on to say that delivering on its potential benefits requires a firm and dedicated commitment from the provincial government.
We know that about legislation. I think this legislation, in the hope and expectation that it passes, is excellent. But its effectiveness will depend upon the political will and determination and commitment to this legislation by whatever government is in office in the coming years to see it through and to ensure that it achieves its effects and benefits. I think that it fits well, then, within the record of this government on environmental issues. I have considerable confidence that if this government can continue beyond the next election, we can see this legislation brought to fruition and can achieve the goals that are set out within it.
The government record on environmental issues is an impressive one. It's a record that has achieved much in respect of land use planning in this province. Indeed, I think we've exceeded the 12 percent target that was set some years ago for parks in this province. That has been a difficult process, but one that has, I think, been tremendously productive and is a sign of the commitment and determination that this government has brought to the issues of land use planning -- again, an important environmental issue.
The land use planning process has not been just about parks, however. It's been about broader land use issues and bringing peace to the land on issues that have in the past resulted in considerable discord. We've seen the evidence of that success just in the last week with the mid-coast LRMP, which really is a breakthrough agreement showing that in perhaps the most contentious part of the province, agreement could be achieved among stakeholders on issues of land use. I think that, too, is testament to this government's ongoing commitment to principles of environmental protection and to the process to see those principles through, to see them reflected in policies and to make sure that those policies are reflected on the ground. That kind of commitment is important in evaluating this legislation and whether this legislation achieves its objectives in the years ahead.
I could point to other decisions: on Vancouver Island in the land use area, like the forest land reserve, which has protected much of the private forest land on Vancouver Island from being converted into subdivisions or taken out of forest production and is an initiative that's been supported by both forest workers and environmentalists.
In the area of forest practices, the Forest Practices Code -- which also has provisions that deal with water protection in terms of streamside protection -- is another reflection of an ongoing commitment to making sure that issues of environmental concern are reflected in government policy in a way that is relevant, that is meaningful, that in fact produces the kinds of goals and objectives that British Columbians care about. I believe this legislation on water also reflects that. If this legislation is passed and if this legislation is implemented with the same kind of commitment that this government has implemented its land use plans and its forest practices commitments, then I believe it will be very successful legislation indeed.
Similarly, on issues of timber harvest levels
The people of British Columbia care about clean water. They care about sustainability in forest practices. They care about the fact that the land base should be stewarded and protected so some of that land base is there for future generations in a pristine and undisturbed fashion. They care that people work together to achieve these results. And just as this government has over the years produced results on the land in terms of land use planning and parks, in terms of the Forest Practices Code and timber supply, this legislation, I believe, is further reflection of this government's commitment to ensure that the public values of pure and clean water are reflected legislatively and will be reflected in reality through the implementation of this legislation.
The same commitment to environmental values is reflected in the commitments the government has made in respect of wildlife issues and most recently, the decision to place a three-year moratorium on the hunting of grizzly bears,
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reflecting the precautionary principle that in the face of competing and contradictory evidence around grizzly bear populations, we cannot risk those populations by allowing a hunt to continue. Indeed, that hunt has now been put on hold pending better scientific understanding.
[D. Streifel in the chair.]
That is a decision I believe has the broad support of British Columbians who -- again, as they care about water, as they care about their forest resources, as they care about the way their land is stewarded -- want to ensure that critical wildlife like grizzly bear populations are not threatened and are protected. These are tough matters of public policy. They haven't come easily. They've required ongoing work and commitment, and that ongoing work and commitment is reflected in this bill as well.
I could say the same about the government's commitment on issues of urban sustainability within my own constituency and the larger area of greater Victoria -- the commitment the government has made in terms of protection of the land base and protection of parks, for example. We've doubled the park protection. Not only provincewide but within the greater Victoria area, the park area has been more than doubled as well -- a much more difficult accomplishment, because of course, the land base is more heavily impacted here. We've managed to achieve that because we have worked with the community.
In terms of our own water issues in greater Victoria, there was a major threat to our water supply by the existence of a highway that ran right next to our major reservoir and provided access for contaminants to that reservoir. The public health officer said that so long as that highway remained open, our water supply would not be secure. Thanks to the efforts of this government, a land exchange was effected that allowed the closure of that highway. And for that reason, this water supply in this area is now secure. I wish it would rain a little bit more, but the water supply is secure.
I think, again, these are reflections of a government that is prepared to put environmental values and health values that are associated with the environment at the very top of its agenda, because they are very much at the top of the public's agenda. The public cares about these issues. They want a government that will ensure that these values are vouchsafed and are pursued. I think a further reflection is in the commitment this government has made to a sustainability commissioner, a commissioner who will oversee the activities of government, monitor those activities and report out on them to the public so the public can be assured that government is being as careful and as consistent in its commitments to the environment as it is in its other commitments. I'm very proud that this government has taken that stand as well.
We've also taken stands in favour of citizens' abilities to speak out on environmental issues and the democratic rights of citizens to participate in public debates on these issues through the legislation that we brought forward recently to protect public participation. I think we've shown a similar reflection of what this bill reflects in our support for labelling of genetically modified food products to ensure that the public have information they need to make their own judgments about what risks do or don't exist in respect of their food supplies.
So when you look at the record in terms of environmental protection, on land use, in forest practices, in areas of critical wildlife, in areas of urban sustainability, in areas of public participation, in food protection, you see a very consistent pattern coming from this government, a consistent commitment to protecting the public interest by ensuring that environmental values, particularly where they have health implications, as well, are protected and are put at the top of the agenda. That's what I see in this bill, as well, for all the reasons that the minister said. This is a bill that has reflected much thought, much effort, much work. It's a bill that shows a determination to move forward now on the area of water protection in the same way we've moved forward on these other issues.
I go back to the comments of Chris Rolfe, the staff counsel for the West Coast Environmental Law Association. I want to say that I think his insight is a valuable one -- that the potential benefits of this bill, like all bills, will require a firm and dedicated commitment from the provincial government. What worries me about this bill is not the bill itself. I'm not even worried that we won't pass this bill, although the comments of the Opposition House Leader trouble me a little bit, because it's suggested that perhaps the opposition is going to try to block this bill. I hope that isn't the case. But I worry: is the commitment really there to see this bill through should the opposition become government following the next election? I think that's a concern that British Columbians should have, because on virtually all the issues that I have discussed, all the issues in which commitments have been tested in the past, I have not seen, on the part of the opposition, the same kind of commitment toward environmental values as I've seen come from the government side.
Yet as Chris Rolfe says, this bill's effectiveness will depend upon political will. It will depend upon a government seeing the legislation through, not just in the Legislature but beyond. I hope this is something that the public considers when they weigh not only this bill but their choices in the coming election.
Let's briefly review the record of the opposition in terms of environmental matters, like water, in other areas of public policy. Let's talk about the Forest Practices Code. In respect of the Forest Practices Code the Leader of the Opposition has been talking about modifying the code. I think the Kamloops newspaper accurately described his proposal as gutting the Forest Practices Code. I know that in the last election one of the senior members of his caucus talked about taking a chainsaw to the Forest Practices Code. What I've heard from the opposition around the Forest Practices Code is not the same kind of commitment to environmental values that I see reflected in the code and in this legislation. What I see is a desire to try to sweep aside the protections of the code and to weaken environmental standards at every opportunity. That's something that concerns me.
Take issues of timber harvest. Having a sustainable timber harvest is absolutely critical in terms of the economic future of our forest communities and the environmental future of our forests. It's also critical to the markets that we need to reassure overseas. Yet what I have heard from the opposition, particularly from the Leader of the Opposition, is proposals to increase the forest harvest without regard to sustainability, to artificially jack up harvest levels in a way that will compromise sustainability. That's not the kind of commit-
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ment that should reassure British Columbians that this is an opposition that cares about the environment and will see these through -- the valuable principles and proposals that are set forth in this water bill.
[The Speaker in the chair.]
Similarly on land use planning. Last week I tried to imagine the Leader of the Opposition being at the announcement that took place on the midcoast and bringing those parties together. I couldn't do it, hon. Speaker. I couldn't imagine the Leader of the Opposition as the kind of leader who could bring together industry, environmentalists, first nations and workers around a land use plan of that kind. Why? Because the Leader of the Opposition has tried at every opportunity to be divisive on land use issues, to foment discord on land use issues, to criticize land use plans and stir up discontent. He's not the kind of individual who has shown the kind of commitment to bringing parties together to achieve resolution of the land use challenges in a way that will satisfy both environmental and economic concerns.
Then we go to other policies. I was shocked, as I think most British Columbians will be shocked when it occurs to them in the next election campaign, that if they vote for the opposition party, they are voting to restore the hunt of grizzly bears. In the face of competing scientific evidence, in the face of serious doubts about the sustainability of our grizzly bear population, they are prepared to throw precautionary principle to the winds in order to satisfy those who wish to go out and hunt grizzly bears in the absence of clear and unequivocal scientific evidence. That's the kind of attitude the opposition brings to bear. That's the concern they have for environmental precaution. And if that is their attitude in respect of the implementation of this bill, should they ever get the chance to implement it, then I think British Columbians should be worried.
In the last few days I've seen the opposition rail against legislation that is designed to protect the rights of individuals to speak out and criticize against powerful interests in society when they worry that those powerful interests may be doing damage to the environment. Environmental groups, the Union of B.C. Municipalities, labour groups and others have said we need protection for citizens to speak out on environmental concerns and other concerns about development. The opposition has said: "No way. Citizens shouldn't have the right to speak out protected through legislation that was brought forward in this House." The opposition is opposed in principle to a bill that would result in labelling of genetically modified foods in this House.
Time and time again we see an opposition that puts the interests of development, in the case of urban issues, and of short-term thinking, in the case of forestry issues and in terms of grizzly bears, ahead of long-term sustainability -- an opposition that is prepared to foment discord rather than bring groups together.
That causes me serious concern, because as good as this legislation is
And that is something that troubles me, because the record of the opposition
on these kinds of issues suggests that they're prepared, when it's politically
convenient, to stand up and vote the right way. But when the rubber hits the
road, they're really out there talking about short-term, quick fixes and are
prepared to sell off environmental values at every turn, whether it's restoring
the hunt of grizzly bears, whether it's allowing mining in parks, whether it is
encouraging people to be non-constructive in land use planning, whether it's
increasing timber harvest for short-term gain but without regard to the
long-term pain, whether it's opposing a sustainability commissioner. Who could
oppose a sustainability commissioner? Only the opposition could do that, and God
knows why. Or whether it's saying to citizens, "No, we won't provide
protection for you in terms of your concerns on the environment. We won't
broaden the scope of public discourse on environmental issues
On all these issues, the opposition record is one that causes me serious concern. I wish that in legislation we could guard against the fact that as good as legislation is, it's only ultimately as good as the political will of those who implement it.
But the only way to guard against that danger and that concern will come in the next election, when I believe the citizens of this province will ask themselves the question: who really is there to stand up to protect environmental values? Who has done it not just in legislation but in deed? I think the answer on land use planning, the answer on forest practices, the answer on critical wildlife, the answer on urban sustainability and the answer in every aspect of protecting the environment has been that this government has been there, has been working hard and has achieved an incredible measure of success.
I hope that in the coming election, citizens will continue to put their support in this government, because I greatly fear that if they do not, legislation of this kind could be watered down -- you should pardon the expression, hon. Speaker -- by an opposition party that, given the chance, would not be committed to these same values. Just as they're prepared to sacrifice grizzly bears, just as they're prepared to sacrifice sustainability in forest harvest levels, just as they're prepared to compromise our environmental values for the sake of development, they will be prepared to compromise these values too.
For that reason I am in strong support of this legislation. But I hope that in the coming election campaign, people will look beyond this legislation and ask themselves: who best will protect the interests of British Columbians when it comes not only to clean water but to other environmental values? Clearly the answer is not the opposition party, hon. Speaker.
I move adjournment of the debate on second reading.
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A. Petter moved adjournment of the debate.
The Speaker: Just before I call the Government House Leader, members, it's my honour to present the following reports: the Legislative Assembly Management Committee annual report for the period June 2000 through March 2001 and the report of the Speaker's advisory panel on the murals in the rotunda.
Hon. G. Janssen moved adjournment of the House.
The House adjourned at 5:54 p.m.
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